Stephanie Gonzalez

For senior Stephanie Gonzalez, watching her great-grandmother suffer with Alzheimer’s disease set her down the road for a remedy. Neuroscience would be her vehicle.

Since arriving in Boston, Stephanie has been speeding toward that goal, examining the impact of perceived racism on regions of the brain related to Alzheimer’s, as well as the therapeutic impact of exercise on those same areas.

But getting from there to here wasn’t always easy, she recalls.

One class in particular, Principles of Neuroscience, gave her trouble, to the point that she was considering dropping the major. She reached out to her professor for help on a challenging assignment. Even though his office hours were full, he made the time. “He explained everything, but didn’t give the information to me. He said, ‘You can figure this out, I know you know this.’ He believed in me, that I had the capability to do well in that course. He gave me the confidence I didn’t know I had. Everything changed after that.”

“It completely changed the way that I thought. It completely changed my career. It completely changed everything.”

She quickly learned that the accessibility and approachability of some of the field’s leading minds was baked into the BU culture. “Having access to iconic figures as faculty who are inspirations to so many neuroscientists was really cool.”

That support, along with Stephanie’s newfound confidence, would lead to a double major, two semesters in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program looking at the relationship between exercise and Alzheimer’s disease, and a research position at the Brain Plasticity & Neuroimaging Laboratory at the BU School of Medicine, where she conducts research on human subjects and is involved in data collection and analysis.

“For my senior thesis, I’m exploring the connection between perceived racism and discrimination and lower cortical volume in regions of the brain related to Alzheimer’s,” she says. “Racism and intolerance are not just social problems. They literally affect your brain structure and the way you live and your longevity.”

While Stephanie is from Houston, Texas, by way of El Tigre, Venezuela, she says she has found an intellectual home in Boston. BU not only challenged her in the acquisition of knowledge, she says, but in her understanding of who she is and what she is capable of. She even carved out the space to take the helm at the Mind & Brain Society and launch a student coalition in the neuroscience program. She lays all the credit at the feet of her professors, lab instructors, and advisors, and has been inspired to follow in their footsteps.

“I am now aspiring to get my PhD,” she says. “My goal is to go into academia. I realized at BU that I really enjoyed imparting knowledge and discussing the topics I’m passionate about.”