Maria Eugenia Arias Montecillo has achieved significant success within Concordia’s biochemistry co-op program. Last year, she received the Co-op Employer’s Choice Award, the Montreal Lakeshore University Women’s Club Scholarship, an industrial grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, as well as the Bourse Gilles Joncas awarded to the top university co-op student in Quebec.
Arias Montecillo is proof of what can be accomplished with perseverance and hard work.
She moved to Montreal from Celaya, Mexico, seven years ago when she was 19. She spent her first year learning French until she was accepted into Concordia’s Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science.
Realizing engineering wasn’t exactly what she wanted to do, she explored other options, and found Concordia’s chemistry and biochemistry co-op program held a strong practical appeal for her. “I wanted to be able to work in the summer in something related to my field,” she says. “I wanted to gain experience, and co-op offered that.”
Before she could be admitted into the co-op program, however, Arias Montecillo had to earn the necessary marks. While her studies had been going well in engineering, biochemistry was a different story. She had a difficult time during her first term and her grade point average (GPA) dropped to 2.2.
She nevertheless consulted with Sébastien Robidoux, a senior lecturer in Concordia’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the co-op program’s former director. He noted her low GPA but asked her to write a letter explaining her motivation.
“I guess he saw how serious I was, because after he read it, he made a deal with me,” Arias Montecillo recalls.
The deal was that if she could achieve a 3.3 GPA during that one term, he would let her into the program. So Arias worked harder than ever and completed her semester with a 3.5 GPA. Robidoux kept his end of the bargain and Arias started in the co-op program the following term.
Arias immediately excelled. “Maria brings forth everything that a co-op program represents: flexibility, diversity, personal investment, team work, as well as academic, professional and personal performance,” Robidoux says.
Completing her first work-term at the global technology firm PerkinElmer, Arias Montecillo was pleased to gain valuable knowledge and experience that she could bring back to the classroom, in addition to earning money.
PerkinElmer offered Arias Montecillo a permanent job, but she decided to vary her co-op experience. She completed a work-term at MediMabs, a research and development firm that specializes in antibodies, and then another internship at the leading pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, where she continues to work.
“I think one of the best things I have ever done is co-op,” she says. “It made me discover myself as a person, and sure that this is the field I want to work in.”
Arias Montecillo will conduct virology research at Boehringer Ingelheim for at least the summer. She hopes to further her studies with a master’s degree in the near future.
She is definitely pleased with how far she has come. “One thing I have learned since coming to Montreal, and from my experience at Concordia, is that if you dream something, it can materialize,” she says. “You just have to make it happen.”
• Read about more 2012 Great Grads in the Faculty of Arts and Science
• “Top Co-op Student in Quebec is a Concordian” — NOW, November 17, 2011
• Institute for Co-operative Education
• Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry Co-op Program