A first-generation undergraduate student from Mexia, Texas, David Sarabia is among the seniors graduating this month. On his way to receiving his bachelor of science degree in chemistry, Sarabia participated in the Supra Sensors Research stream of the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) and as an undergraduate researcher in Eric Anslyn's laboratory in the Department of Chemistry.
As both a Texas Interdisciplinary Plan (TIP) Program Scholar and a peer mentor, Sarabia also spent significant time supporting other first-generation college students like himself. As the lead peer mentor of the Supra Sensors FRI stream, Sarabia has helped new FRI students become familiar with laboratory techniques, concepts and scientific communication related to analytical chemistry.
"David is one of those extraordinary undergraduate peer mentors that you know truly cares and is 100% committed to the mission of the FRI program and the Supra Sensors stream,"research educator Diana Zamara-Olivares said. "He's a clear example of hard work, perseverance and success."
Paving the Way
Born to immigrants from Mexico, Sarabia has experienced taking on the role of translator, caretaker, tutor and provider for his family.
"I am proud of my heritage, culture and how it has shaped my values and morals to a life deserving of the sacrifices my parents have made," he said.
Before college, Sarabia worked over 30 hours per week as a manager at a restaurant to help pay for his sibling's school supplies and medical bills. Nonetheless, he was valedictorian of his high school class. At UT, he recently founded "BoomTown Scholars," a program designed to provide access to financial aid, scholarships and college application resources for high school students from rural communities.
"I understand that applying to a four-year university, two-year college or technical school may be more difficult for some students in comparison to their peers in Texas,"Sarabia said. "I plan to alleviate this disparity and show students that they are just as capable of completing high school and achieving their academic and personal endeavors."
Sarabia is among the College of Natural Sciences' 2022 Graduates of Distinction, receiving two distinctions: in Research and in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. He previously received University Honors each year, as well as a Second-Year Excellence Award and an Award for Academic Excellence during his first semester in 2018. He is a McNair Scholar, Terry Foundation Scholar, Dell Scholar and Horatio Alger Association Scholarand the recipient of an FRI First Year Summer Research Fellowship (2019), a CNS Summer Experience Fellowship (2021), a Summer Research Institutes (SRI) Fellowship (2021) and an Aspire Award for Research Excellence (2021).
Researching Texas Wines
As an advanced undergraduate researcher for the UT Wine Initiative, Sarabia's research is focused on the investigation of tannin composition and creating metabolomic profiles of Texas wines. The preliminary data from this project was presented to donors and collaborators in the Texas wine community.
Recently, Sarabia was one of ten students in the nation to be awarded a Pfizer/ACS Travel and Research Grant to present his mass spectrometry-based metabolomics research at the American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting in San Diego in March.
After graduation, Sarabia will begin his graduate studies in organic chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He hopes to one day become a chemistry professor.
"FRI introduced me to the art of scientific communication early in my undergraduate career. Because of this, I was equipped with skills to better understand advanced chemistry concepts in my other lecture and laboratory courses," he said. "The best advice I can give to incoming UT and FRI students is to attempt to become the best version of yourself in every aspect of your life. It is important to seek opportunity rather than to wait for the possibility of opportunity in your future."
Written by Elizabeth Ilardi, Ph.D.