Fullerton Biology Assistant Professor Kimberly Rosales Feature Story

November 18, 2022
Fullerton Biology Faculty Kimberly Rosales

Kimberly Rosales was investigating cancer as a research scientist when she decided she could have a greater impact on the world as a teacher.

“I started thinking to myself, ‘I am just one scientist. If I can go out and start training other students to go into the field, that’s a way I can have a broader impact on the scientific community in general,’” says Rosales who has been a full-time faculty member in Fullerton College’s biology department since 2016.

Like many Fullerton professors, Rosales real-world experience as a researcher is an invaluable asset when it comes to her ability to teach students the nuts and bolts of working in a laboratory.

“We really want to train students for the workforce,” Rosales says. “We want students to have the conceptual knowledge and the hands-on knowledge. When they step foot in a company, they need to know both.”

Growing up in a family of educators in the small town of Las Vegas, New Mexico, Rosales envisioned her future as a teacher before she became involved with science.

An outstanding biology teacher in junior high school piqued her interest in science, which was solidified when she took her first biology class at New Mexico Highlands University in her hometown.

“I didn’t know what a researcher was and that people actually did this for a job,” says Rosales. “That was the turning point where I decided I liked research. I wanted to be the person who was finding answers to questions we don’t know the answers to.”

She applied and was accepted to the University of California at Irvine, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and her doctorate degree in molecular and cell biology. After spending a year working UCI’s Outreach, Research Training, and Minority Science Program at UC Irvine, Rosales was hired as a researcher at City of Hope, a leading cancer treatment center.

At a summer research program at the University of Utah, Rosales got her first chance to work in a laboratory and conduct research.

She researched cancer metabolism and how cancer cells utilize nutrients as part of an effort to find new cancer treatments. Rosales says seeing cancer patients at the hospital gave more meaning to her research.

“It brought home the why,” she says. “This is why we do this. It really impacts peoples’ lives to have this treatment to prolong their lives.”

While working in the lab by day, Rosales taught a community college biology class at night. Her initial interest in becoming a teacher began calling to her again.

“That desire to teach science to others always stayed with me,” she says. “I really felt like there was this huge disconnect between scientists and the way we talk and educating the general public.”

Soon, she would be working as an adjunct professor at several colleges before getting hired full-time at Fullerton.

“My favorite class to teach is still Bio 101,” she says. “You could have students in there who are just taking it as a general ed requirement, and they might think ‘I like this and this could be a great career path.’ Even if they don’t go into it as a career, they need to have a basic understanding of science and how it affects their lives. Just having some knowledge is critical.”

Rosales says Fullerton students in biotechnology get hands-on experience on state-of-the art equipment beginning with their first class. Additionally, the program offers stackable certificates that allow students to earn additional certificates that will add to their knowledge and increase their job opportunities.

And this is a good thing. Biotechnology jobs pay great salaries and are in high-demand, particularly in California’s biotechnology hubs like Orange County and San Diego. Many well-paying jobs only require a certificate or an associate degree to get started.

“Our goal is to give students hands-on training so they can go directly into a job and earn a livable wage and start on a career path that can be really lucrative for them,” she says.

Rosales says she most enjoys seeing students get excited about science and realize they might make it their career.

“Helping students realize their dreams and their goals is most rewarding,” she says. “I really get excited watching students thrive and watching them gain competence in what they want to do.”