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Add cancer research to her resume

03/14/2013, 12:01am PDT
By Kevin J. Farmer Special to the U-T

Olympian's Karla Mendoza knows the softball basics. She also knows her way around a lab.


Even when she’s not pitching, Karla Mendoza is on the field. She caught in a recent game against El Cajon Valley. Earnie Grafton • U-T

— How to hit the cutoff on a relay, to stay back on a change-up ...

Olympian High School’s Karla Mendoza excels in the basics.

She also knows how to synthesize polymers and conjugate amines to form micelles.

Do they? Who does?

The Eagles’ senior captain was hands-on in the field of cancer research last summer after she was selected for three-week, paid, live-in internship at the organic chemistry lab at the University of California San Diego.

During her six-hour workday, she gained experience in running procedures like ring open metathesis polymerization, nuclear magnetic resonance, high-pressure liquid chromatography, light scattering and UV visibility.

“It was a great opportunity, I was with people from all over,” said Mendoza, who sports a mighty 4.5 weighted GPA over her four years at Olympian, including a 5.0 this year. “It’s like I have a buffet of international academic connections now.”

UCSD is also the site of another special event for Mendoza. On Jan. 19 — a date firmly etched in her mind — she did her interview to attend Harvard University.

“The professor who did the interview told me when I explained the technology of what I did said I spoke better than a lot of the undergrads he knew,” said Mendoza, who has already been accepted to UCSD, but MIT, Stanford, Johns Hopkins and Washington University in St. Louis also rank behind her Harvard dream. “He even asked me to explain the difference between baseball and softball.”

Of course her answer was scientific. She explained the angle caused by the mound for baseball forces pitches to be throw down hill while the arm angle in softball makes everything rise.

She is still awaiting Harvard’s decision.

Mendoza was born in Mexico and immigrated to Miami at the age of 3. A year later she started playing softball.

Her family moved to California when she was 10 and she began playing at the powerful Bonita Valley Softball League. She became a regular on the league’s all-star teams, including the 12-and-Under national championship team in 2008.

She is now in her fourth year on varsity at Olympian. She does it all — the No. 1 pitcher and when she’s not on the mound she could be found playing almost anywhere.

“She can play any position, and play them better than most,” said Olympian head coach Rick Carrera.

Mendoza, who hopes to be a neurosurgeon, enjoys the role of team leader. Her quiet leadership tends to make teammates think.

“I want to be a role model,” she said. “I gave everyone a work sheet this year so they would all think about goals they would like to have.”

Her teammates respect Mendoza so much she was the runaway selection as the Eagles’ most valuable player last year.

“That was totally the team’s decision,” Carrera said. “They voted for it and I’ll tell you what, it wasn’t even close.”

Her compassion for others isn’t limited to her teammates. Among her numerous school activities (besides carrying four AP and an Honors class), she founded the school’s Math Tutoring and Chemistry Tutoring Clubs as well as vice president of the Spanish Organization for Literature.

If that wasn’t enough, she volunteers much of her free time at the La Maestra Dental Clinic in Tijuana. She has learned to develop X-rays, sanitize equipment, and set up procedures like root canals, amalgams and extractions.

Where does a girl find time to synthesize polymers anymore?

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