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  Rafael Guzman-Soriano is the 2024 K&L Gates Scholar.
Rafael Guzman-Soriano is the 2024 K&L Gates Scholar.

Rafael Guzman-Soriano Wins K&L Gates Prize

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Peter Kerwin
University Communications & Marketing

The future is bright for Rafael Guzman-Soriano, Carnegie Mellon University’s 2024 K&L Gates Scholar, whose time at CMU left him feeling prepared for what’s next.

The $5,000 prize is given to one graduating undergraduate student who has inspired their fellow students to love learning through a combination of intellect, scholarly achievement, engagement with others and character.

Guzman-Soriano, a senior and chemistry(opens in new window) major, started college in the fall of 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when students took courses remotely because of social-distancing guidelines.

“I struggled with asking for help,” he said.

In addition to loneliness, he said he experienced imposter syndrome — a feeling that he did not deserve his success — despite earning top marks in his courses. It was the support from Carnegie Mellon faculty that helped him through.

His academic adviser, Karen Stump(opens in new window), recommended him for the Mellon College of Science’s Leadership Development Seminar, taught by Michael Murphy, a distinguished service professor and executive director of the Center for Leadership Studies(opens in new window). The seminar empowered him.

“One takeaway from the seminar was a lesson on phrasing your success,” he said. “I used to say ‘I got lucky’ a lot, but it's more, like, ‘being ready.’ I use the skills, resources and everything that I've learned from prior experiences to seize opportunities and succeed in them. I definitely try to share this perspective with the first-year students that I'm mentoring.”

Prior to the seminar, he said he had never thought of himself as a leader.

“You're your own biggest critic, and sometimes it can be hard to get past your own criticism,” Guzman-Soriano said. “When you're so hard on yourself, it can blind you to what you're capable of doing.”

Peer advocacy

When he became a Tartan Scholars(opens in new window) Ambassador and a peer tutor in the Student Academic Success Center(opens in new window) in 2022, Guzman-Soriano said he was determined to help other students avoid the struggles he experienced.

“After some time and practice, I gained the trust of these students, and they were trusting of my ability to teach them,” he said.

Among Guzman-Soriano’s accolades: He is an Andrew Carnegie Society Scholar(opens in new window) and a Senior Leadership Recognition(opens in new window) honoree and will be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa this spring. He received the 2023 ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry Undergraduate Award and a 2023 CMU Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship(opens in new window).

Guzman-Soriano said he is inspired by the diverse talents of his undergraduate peers in the arts and sciences.

“I just think of Carnegie Mellon as a collection of the future,” he said.

At home in the lab

Guzman-Soriano discovered his own happy place in the chemistry lab. During his first year, he took a junior-level course in inorganic chemistry and was invited to work in Chemistry Professor Stefan Bernhard’s(opens in new window) lab group. His work earned a 2021 NASA Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium Undergraduate Scholarship.

“Dr. Bernhard was always very much a believer in me,” said Guzman-Soriano, who will begin graduate studies at Cornell University in August. “My relationship with him is showing me the kind of professor that I want to be if I get the opportunity. He's very personable, easy to interact with and very fun.”

Guzman-Soriano’s most recent research with Bernhard is a chemical-based project to develop an oxygen sensor.

He has presented his work to the National Organization for the Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers(opens in new window) and the American Chemical Society(opens in new window) and is a co-author on a manuscript that will be submitted for publication.

Stump, director of undergraduate studies and teaching professor in chemistry, said that “people gravitate to Rafael to get things done.”

“Rafael has developed into a remarkable leader through his passionate commitment to supporting others through the full breadth of his metacurricular experience,” Stump said. “He is singular in the strength of his intellect and his commitment to engage deeply and with his full attention to his many commitments to the CMU community and its students.”

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