If you’re a sophomore or first-year, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Matiza Sacotingo ’21 before, most likely on her YouTube channel! Beyond the internet, Sacotingo is well-known on campus for her involvement in the STEM community, heading MAPS (Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students) as the group’s co-president, mentoring students in the “Big Doc/Little Doc,” mentorship program, and for her involvement in the Wesleyan Christian Fellowship. The Argus Zoomed with Sacotingo to find about all this and more.
The Argus: Why do you think you were nominated to be a WesCeleb?
Matiza Sacotingo: I honestly don’t know. I would hypothesize that it’s from my YouTube channel. But the reason why I say I don’t know is because I haven’t posted in a long time, I’ve been taking a social media break so when I got the email I was like oh! I was surprised.
A: Overall, how has your semester been?
MS: Pretty good. Hectic, it’s my last year so I’m just planning for post-grad. It’s been busy.
A: And you’re studying remotely. What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
MS: I think the biggest challenge is balancing academics with my personal home responsibilities. Cause I can’t escape from my home responsibilities because it’s in my face. So just being able to balance the two worlds is a bit of a challenge. But it’s good. It’s a good practice for life.
A: What do you do on campus?
MS: On campus, I am co-president of MAPS, which is Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students. It’s a pre-med society dedicated to minority students. I am co-president of that and I am currently a TA for biochemistry. Under normal semester circumstances, I also tutor elementary students of Middletown. I tutor mathematics to these students, they’re like my best friends. I really miss them. But I tutor mathematics and I also tutor organic chemistry throughout the semester. I am also a mentor to three pre-medical POC students as part of MAPS/AMSA [American Medical Student Association] mentorship program, “Big Doc/Little Doc,” so that is really fun. I am also involved in research, currently not with Wesleyan but with NYU.
A: What do you research?
MS: I’m currently studying phenotypic heterogeneity in yeast, how yeast responds to extreme stresses in regards to its growth rate and stress survival. It’s really interesting because yeast, for me, the reason why I do it, is the implication of this research to infectious diseases that are prevalent in underrepresented communities and developing countries. And so just to have an insight into the biochemical and molecular processes going on within the foundational basis of the yeast can give us an idea of how these infectious diseases are operating in the human body. So that’s why I really love that research field.
A: Do you think that infectious diseases, after you go to medical school, will be your focus?
MS: When I go to medical school I want to continue my passion to serve the underserved communities, because that is something that I’m currently receiving [and] that’s also something that sparked my passion for medicine. You know, coming from a low-income background, access to healthcare is very scarce. I have been blessed to have access to our neighborhood clinic and that neighborhood clinic also caters to families that come from low income, disadvantaged minority communities. So that, and receiving care from my pediatrician who also helped me to overcome obesity really had a positive impact on my life, and I was like okay, I want to do this for other children who are also less fortunate and who are also in my shoes. When I go to medical school, I definitely want to continue research in a field that also produces scientific discovery on a condition that’s really prevalent in developing disadvantaged communities. So infectious diseases is one, diabetes is one, [and] nutrition is a real problem that I am excited to explore in the future.
A: Aside from research at NYU, have you done any previous research at Wesleyan?
MS: Yeah, so I did do research at Wesleyan. I was in the Sleep and Psychosocial Adjustment (SPA) lab with Professor Dubar. I did research with her for a semester and it was a really great experience. That was psychology research. With that research, we were studying sleep in relation to psychosocial adjustment on Wesleyan students. It was very interesting to see the relationship between the two, and after that which was in the [fall of] my junior year, I realized that I was really interested in biomedicine-related research. Before, I thought I loved Psychology research, but after [having] experience in psychology research, I was like, actually maybe I really like medicine [and] biomedical research. So that was a really great experience for me, I loved my experience in the SPA lab and it really taught me a lot [that I] will carry with me on my journey in my biomedical research experience.
A: Do you have any advice for women of color in STEM?
MS: It’s hard, I was so close to not pursuing STEM. I am a French major. There is really no overlap between my French major courses and my pre-med requirements. When it comes to planning, I really have to plan things out ahead of time and strategically. With that aside, I would recommend women of color to pursue your passion. I love French, I love the language and I didn’t want to sacrifice that to focus on STEM heavy courses. I would highly recommend women of color to pursue your passion and you can do both things that you are great at. And I would also recommend women of color never to give up. I was so close to not pursuing STEM at all, pre-med at all, during my first semester at Wesleyan. My mental health was not good, I was just new to the academic life at Wesleyan and I did not know the balance between social [life] and academics. I sacrificed a lot of my social [life] in thinking [that] heavy focus on my academics was the right way. In hindsight, it would have been the right way if I knew how to study. That wasn’t the case so I didn’t get any sleep, I didn’t eat right, I didn’t prioritize my self-care while being a student and I ended up in an emergency room. I had anxiety, panic attacks, and things like that.
I would recommend women of color seek advice and help. There’s a lot of things I could have done, I could have asked my professors how to go about exam studying, I could have asked upperclassmen and been more vocal and really channelled my sense of self-advocacy. Never be afraid to ask for help. Since that experience, I have also been going to CAPS and I would recommend never to feel ashamed of that. Going to CAPS and [seeing a] therapist has really helped me to be equipped with anxiety tips that have helped me a lot. Also, definitely ask questions. In STEM classes for sure, for me, I was hesitant to ask questions because I didn’t want to appear dumb. But I realized that at the end of the day, this is my education and I need to have this down pat. You never know, by asking the question you’re actually helping another student who didn’t know that question or was afraid to ask that question as well.
Sorry, I know I said that that was the last one, but one more would be to never give up on yourself. Freshman year I was really discouraged by pre-med. I said, no, let me just get these requirements out [of] the way, and I’m going to start fresh. I’m going to, you know, go into government. I was already seeking United Nations jobs, thinking ahead. That was the winter before freshmen spring. So that winter break, I was planning for this whole government, United Nations career with courses and things like that. But then a voice in my head kept saying, what about medicine? I really, truly think that that voice was the voice of Christ because what other voice could keep me encouraged to stay on this pre-med track? So till this day, I really am so glad I listened to that voice, because I realized that I cannot allow these weed-out courses, like Intro to chem, intro to bio to deter me from like my lifelong dream and goal to help children who look like me. It’s so important to have diverse representation in medicine because of who you’re catering to and who is doing the catering, there has to be some type of connection, some type of bond. I realized that I can’t let these weed-out courses prevent me from doing that. So definitely believe in yourself for sure.
A: You mentioned something about religion. Are you religious, would you say so?
MS: There are different perspectives on the term religious. Like, I love Jesus. I’m a Christ-follower and I think that going to church and listening to sermons helps my relationship with Christ, but I think my priority is my relationship with Christ. And I think it’s just me and him. And it’s, you know, the “religious factors,” such as church and sermons that can help that relationship. But I think my focus as a Christian is just my relationship with Christ. So I would go about categorizing myself that way.
A: So as a Christian on Wesleyan’s campus, what’s that like?
MS: As a student, academics can take over a lot. I found myself waking up and not really praying and just going to class. And then whenever I’m stressed, then I’ll be like, okay, Jesus, please help me. You know what I’m saying? It would be kind of like a convenient, separate relationship where I will only go to him when I’m suffering when I’m in need of help. But in times when everything would be okay, you know, me and his relationship would not be prioritized, because again, I would just be in my books, trying to get through the day. And so I think in general, being a student, the balance between my faith and academics was something that I had to learn. And it’s something that I think that the pandemic really woke me up to. I have been learning a lot of things and I had a great community of faith and friends as well with the Wesleyan Christian Fellowship and through the club, I met great, great people who are also faith followers. So that has helped a lot in terms of keeping my relationship with Christ stable. But yeah, I say in general, as a college student, that relationship is very hard to balance because of the academic rigor.
A: When did you become interested in creating YouTube videos and how do you balance that with your other commitments?
MS: Yeah, so I started like junior year of high school, 2016, I think. The basis of my channel was I wanted to do motivational videos and help people be confident in themselves and spread positivity. But during the evolution of my channel, I started doing affordable fashion, which is very, very key for me because I used to see Brandy Melville and all these expensive fashion videos. I’m like, look, I can’t afford that. But I do know how to thrift and I know how to look good on a budget. So I started doing fashion with posts or like thrift store hauls or things like that on my channel. But then later on, as I started college, I was like, okay, I got to get this work done and I don’t have time to post makeup and fashion videos. Then I also saw that I really wanted to show, just another representation of college student life on YouTube. I saw the trend where minority YouTubers weren’t seen as a default. I think that vlogging my college experience can help show students who are aspiring college students that they can do it as well, no matter what you look like and where you come from. Also for me, I think that was more manageable in terms of being proactive with my channel, because I could just like film a day in my life and still get my work done but also be filming. So I think that’s how the evolution of my channel occurred.
A: Do you think you’ll ever continue making videos in the future?
MS: Yeah. Oh my gosh. Yes. I’m just taking a social media break because there is a lot going on, so I just wanted to detox. I will be back soon. I’m not sure when, but for sure, for sure. I’ll definitely be back.
A: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your time at Wesleyan?
MS: I’m going to miss it. Oh my gosh. Yikes. I’m graduating. It’s just kind of scary. I would definitely say it has been such a great teacher for me. I’m so blessed to have this opportunity to even obtain a higher education at such a prestigious university. So I feel so blessed for that. I have met so many gifted and amazing individuals at Wesleyan who have inspired me. In general, I think Wesleyan is such an uplifting, inspiring place where you see so many gifted individuals who are doing big things. And for me, it makes me want to improve my game as well. I just feel so blessed that resources like free tutoring and Dr. Gonzalez and Dr. Rodriguez at the Gordon Career Center, who are health professionals, are there. In general, I just feel grateful for my professors, my friends, etcetera, and I feel so happy to have had this experience as a Wesleyan student.
This article has been edited for length and clarity.
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