2020 Grad Profile: Southern Arizona Dreamer Heads to Harvard

May 14, 2020

Undergraduate Victor Miranda participated in the Summer Institute on Medical Ignorance at the Center for Innovation in Brain Science.


This month, Victor Miranda will earn a Bachelor of Science in microbiology with a minor in biochemistry. He’s part of a university program called Arizona’s Science, Engineering, Mathematics Scholars (ASEMS), which is designed to increase, retain and graduate students in STEM from diverse backgrounds.

Miranda is the first in his family to graduate from college, and his acceptance into a prestigious chemical biology program at Harvard University has been more like a dream than reality.

Miranda went to high school in Rio Rico, a small Arizona community of 18,000 people, located about an hour south of Tucson and a short drive from the U.S. Mexico border town of Nogales. His mom is an immigrant from Mexico and speaks mostly Spanish, and his dad grew up in Nogales, Arizona. He describes his upbringing in two cultures as “wonderful.”

“I want to do something with basic science that could solve big problems. I think that’s the goal of all scientists — making lives better.”Victor Miranda, undergraduate, microbiology.

His close-knit family, including a younger brother who is in naval basic training and a younger sister who is still at home, is incredibly proud of him. They are less excited to see him move across the country but recognize what an amazing opportunity it will be for him.

He admits that he didn’t think about college too much while in high school, but his teachers helped him recognize the opportunities and prepared him for success at the university level. One of those high school influencers was Teresa Potter, his high school chemistry teacher and a UArizona alumna. “Victor excelled in my classes, including AP Chemistry.  I always encouraged him never to put limits on what he thought he could achieve. I’m thrilled to know that he has continued to excel and is about to embark on an exciting adventure at Harvard. I’m so proud of him.”

The AP Chemistry class that Ms. Potter taught was what piqued his interest in science.

“I was so fascinated by how basic science can be applied to something bigger.”

Miranda describes his undergraduate experience and mentoring at the University of Arizona as incredible and is grateful for all the opportunities and access it has afforded him over the last four years.

During his freshman year, his advisors recommended that he gain research lab experience to improve his chances for graduate school. After his first year at the university, Miranda took part in a summer program called Summer Institute on Medical Ignorance or SEMI, a summer program for mentoring and undergraduate research. Initially, Miranda was considering pharmacy school, so drug discovery and pharmacology were of particular interest. Those interests led him to the lab of May Khanna, PhD, in the Center for Innovation in Brain Science.

“As a scientist, Victor went from being an undergraduate student with no experience to being one of the most experienced students here. He is fearless and always willing to try new and challenging projects, which is perhaps the biggest hurdle for any student to overcome. I am confident he will grow into an exceptional scientist at Harvard.” - May Khanna, PhD, Center for Innovation in Brain Science.

 “I have loved every minute of it,” says Miranda. “There aren’t enough words that I can say about the Khanna lab. When it comes to mentoring, they’ve set everyone up for success. Dr. Khanna is so thoughtful and considers what each student needs, what you want to accomplish and helps you every step of the way.”

“Victor has been a most exceptional student in my laboratory. From the beginning, he’s been dedicated to research and has worked tirelessly to move his projects forward. His lab mates can always count on Victor as a colleague and a friend,” Dr. Khanna said.

Miranda says he wants to solve problems, using his biochemistry background to solve challenges in biotech, sustainability or in specific diseases. Right now, he is following his dream.