Cal State LA student from Oxnard receives NSF fellowship for doctoral program at UCLA

José Omar Castellón knew he wanted to pursue a career in the sciences. But, it wasn’t until he attended a chemistry laboratory class that he discovered his interest in scientific research.

That undergraduate lab class helped define his personal mission, which was developed further as a graduate student at California State University, Los Angeles. 

“I hope one day I will be working in the biosciences or pharmaceutical industry while conducting research to help cure diseases,” Castellón says. 

This month, the Oxnard resident will receive his Master of Science in Chemistry from Cal State LA and be the first in his family to earn a graduate degree. Castellón, who was recently awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, will attend UCLA’s Molecular Biology Interdepartmental Ph.D. Program in the fall. 

The fellowship will provide Castellón $34,000 per year for his first three years of doctoral study in biochemistry, biophysics and structural biology. 

Castellón credits much of his success to the support he has received from the faculty and staff members at Cal State LA.  

“I have been fortunate in meeting the right people that believe in my abilities as a budding scientist,” he says.

He was admitted to Cal State LA’s graduate program through the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation – Bridge to the Doctorate Fellowship (LSAMP-BD). 

The LSAMP-BD fellowship is part of a comprehensive, statewide program dedicated to broadening participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. It is funded by the NSF and the Office of the CSU Chancellor.

“The Bridge to Doctorate Fellowship has helped fund my master’s degree and has provided me guidance toward entering a Ph.D. program,” Castellón says.  

As part of his LSAMP-BD fellowship, he researched antifreeze proteins in Professor Xin Wen’s chemistry and biochemistry lab. Earlier this year, he presented his graduate thesis on “Investigation of Ionic Interactions Between Calcium Carbonate and Engineered Antifreeze Proteins” at the 2017 Emerging Researchers National Conference in Washington, D.C.

During his time at Cal State LA, Castellón also participated in a LSAMP-BD summer research experience in Costa Rica. There, he lived in a reserve studying the habitat, behavior and metabolism of a giant lizard.  

Castellón completed his undergraduate degree with a dual major in chemistry and Spanish and a minor in biology at CSU Channel Islands. He also worked for an agricultural chemistry laboratory for about a year, where he analyzed soil and plant samples to help local farmers improve their yields.

His professional experience, along with his Cal State LA education, have prepared him for the future, he says.

“I am excited and nervous but I am looking forward to the next couple of years as I develop myself as a scientific researcher,” Castellón says.

Jose Omar Castello, Master of Science in Biochemistry, recipient of a National Science Foundation research fellowship.  Student success 2017

Cal State LA is ranked number one in the nation based on the upward mobility of its students. Founded in 1947, Cal State LA is the premier public comprehensive university in the heart of Los Angeles and is dedicated to the mission of engagement, service, and the public good. The University serves more than 27,000 students and more than 247,000 distinguished alumni, who are as diverse as the region we serve. Led by an award-winning faculty, the University offers nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education and the humanities.

Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit

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