Colorado State University student Paula Mendoza Moreno is a recipient of the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, a prestigious honor that offers the opportunity to pursue a postgraduate degree at the University of Cambridge.
Mendoza, a chemical and biological engineering student in the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering, is one of more than 80 students around the globe to be named members of the 20th class of Gates Scholars. Following graduation in May, she will be heading to England to pursue a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Cambridge.
Mendoza is the first CSU undergraduate to receive a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, one of the world’s top awards for collegiate students. It was established in 2000 after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated $210 million to the University of Cambridge for outstanding students who display a strong commitment to improving the lives of others.
“I’m so excited to see Paula recognized as a Gates Cambridge Scholar,” said CSU President Joyce McConnell. “The goal of the scholarship is to identify and support the next generation of leaders, not based just on their exceptional achievements, but also on their engagement with our world and their determination to build a better future, and that is a goal that CSU shares. Paula absolutely exemplifies this kind of visionary, selfless leadership. We are so proud of her.”
Mendoza said she is looking forward to meeting the other Gates Scholars from around world as she studies the production and commercialization of liquid hydrogen for aviation fuels. She said she hopes to one day pursue a career in sustainable development.
“It’s really special and incredible that I have this opportunity,” she said. “There are 80 other people coming, and they all have the same desire to dedicate time to discover something that will hopefully help improve the lives of other people around the world.”
Making a difference
Born in Bejuma, Venezuela, Mendoza’s earliest memories coalesce around the collapse of her country’s economy — power outages, food shortages and political protests— due to drought, mismanagement and political instability.
At 15, she relocated to the U.S. with her family. According to Mendoza, the transition to living in Texas was difficult. However, she said she was determined to get an education to help countries like Venezuela improve their quality of life.
Mendoza explained she came to CSU for its strong engineering programs and its reputation as one of the nation’s most sustainable universities. She received the Presidential Scholarship — the highest merit-based scholarship given to incoming students — and was admitted to the Honors Program.
At CSU, Mendoza distinguished herself as a skilled undergraduate researcher. She has investigated the commercialization of guayule, a plant that has the potential to serve as a viable source of renewable rubber. Through it all, her focus has remained on finding sustainable energy solutions.
“It’s the center of everything I have done at CSU,” Mendoza said. “Going forward at Cambridge, I am very interested in sustainable development and finding ways that people can gain access to renewable energy.”
“Going forward at Cambridge, I am very interested in sustainable development and finding ways that people can gain access to renewable energy.”
— Paula Mendoza Moreno
In 2020, Mendoza planned to research renewable marine resources at Florida Atlantic University through an NSF-funded program in 2020, but this experience was canceled due to COVID-19. Instead, she modeled biomass-to-fuels pathways that could support a sustainable bioeconomy in the southwest U.S Jason Quinn’s research group in the mechanical engineering department. She also earned top honors at CSU’s annual undergraduate research symposium in 2020.
“Paula has achieved remarkable success as a student in our chemical and biological engineering program,” said David McLean, dean of the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering. “She has also emerged as a leader and strong advocate for all students here at CSU. We are extremely proud to count Paula as a CSU engineering alumna, and we look forward to seeing her future success enabled by her selection for this prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholar award.”
Mendoza has been a leader on campus for sustainability and social justice issues. As a first-year student, she served as an Eco-Leader in the residence halls, modeling and promoting sustainable practices among her peers.
As a sophomore, she served as an Inclusive Community Assistant, earning the Inclusive Community Assistant of the Year Award for 2018-19. When her college notified students of a number of gender-bias incidents in the college in Fall 2017, she took action, facilitating a series of discussions about how to improve the experience of underrepresented students in the STEM fields at CSU.
In 2019, she was also named a Leader in Residence by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.
When Mendoza thinks back on her time at CSU, she said she is appreciative of all of the support she has received from faculty and staff such as Associate Professor Tom Siller who taught her the importance of sustainability, the staff at the Engineering Success Center, and her research mentors Evan Sproul and Jason Quinn.
While Mendoza is excited to head to England, she said that she’ll always remember her journey from Venezuela to CSU.
“The town where I am from is so small yet so extraordinary, my family there instilled in me all the values I hold today,” she said. “It’s absolutely crazy to wrap my head around where I’ve been and where I’m going now. I’m so grateful to my siblings, Maria and Juan, and my parents, Tulio and Virginia. All of the opportunities I have had are because of the sacrifices they have made.”
Current CSU students interested in applying for a Gates Cambridge Scholarship can contact Mary Swanson, program director of the Office for Scholarship and Fellowship Advising, at firstname.lastname@example.org.