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Scientist inspires young Latinas

October 25, 2022

Krystal Sandza poses in the Canal Alliance office lobby.
Krystal Sandza, Canal Alliance board member

Krystal Sandza is a technical scientist at BioMarin and a role model for young women in our University Prep program who are exploring STEM careers. This kind of mentorship is critical for students who are the first in their families to attend college.  

Krystal is also a member of the Canal Alliance board of directors and a passionate advocate for social justice.    

A former collegiate soccer player, Krystal began her community service as a volunteer soccer coach in Mill Valley.  Leading up to the 2016 election, she was drawn to Canal Alliance and decided to volunteer as a tutor student in University Prep (UP!).  

“I loved coaching soccer to young girls in Mill Valley, but I knew I wanted to serve the Latino community, and found Canal Alliance’s Up! program,” Krystal recalls. 

That’s when she met Vivi, Lisett, and Selma – three first cousins (their moms are sisters), all seventh graders. Krystal supported the students in mathematics, science and in whatever subjects they needed help.  

“I felt so fortunate and it was so much fun getting to know them and to understand what they were learning in school. But more so, it was clear the organization was truly helping the UP! students, through thoughtful attention and consistent support.” 

Fast forward to 2022: Krystal hosted a tour of the BioMarin campus for college students in Canal Alliance’s emerging College to Career program. The program is designed to help college graduates (former UP! students), make a successful transition to a professional career by providing guidance, making connections, and opening doors to new fields.  

Krystal was happily surprised to see two of the three young women that she tutored, both biology majors, on the biotech tour. “It is so powerful to watch the young women over the years. I met them in the seventh grade and now they’re pursuing STEM degrees in college.”  

Krystal’s family has a background in STEM: her mother is a microbiologist and her father an engineer. Still, she reflects, “When people think about getting into biology or a science degree, they think they have to be a nurse or a doctor, or work in a hospital. If you would’ve told me my freshman year in college what my career in biotech would be today, I wouldn’t have believed it.” 

Krystal was born in Colorado in 1982, and in 1984, her parents started training for the 1988 Calgary Olympics as Puerto Rican skiers. After the Olympics, her family relocated to San Diego; however, the pride of having two Puerto Rican Olympians as parents had already heavily influenced her connection to the Latino community.  

She graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a Bachelor’s of Science in Pharmacology, with an award for her undergraduate research and as the school’s record holder for most soccer goals in one game. It was her undergraduate research which launched her career in Biotechnology.  

An advocate for Latino social justice and equitable access to education, Krystal joined the Board in 2018 and Chairs the policy and civic engagement committee.  

 “When I joined the Board, I learned the Canal Alliance was not only preparing our UP! students for college, but was advocating for young Latino students at the city-wide level” to align high school graduation requirements with University of California and California State University A-G requirements.  

Krystal is committed to the mission of Canal Alliance, to break the cycle of generational poverty, particularly through equitable educational opportunities.  “I hope we can keep building as a community for the next 20 years and beyond,” Krystal reflects.  

Krystal Sandza, fourth from the left, with students in the College to Career program and her colleagues at BioMarin. 

Read more posts in: Advocacy, Community, Education, Volunteer

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