For Natalya Figueroa, a summer science camp, her family, and the desire to see Latinx representation in STEM kick-started her passion for a career in the life sciences.

For this month’s “Discovery Starts with Me” story, we spoke with Figueroa, a Senior Research Associate at BioAnalysis LLC. BioAnalysis LLC is a non-clinical Contract Research Organization (CRO) that partners with labs and organizations whose analytical needs range from R&D to cGMP release stages. Its twenty-person team provides rigorous investigations and recommendations using scientifically in-depth analyses for gene therapy and other biotherapeutics candidates. Located in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia at the MaKen Studios South coworking space, BioAnalysis supports MaKen’s vision of making the Kensington community a destination for businesses, entrepreneurial creatives, and manufacturers.

The Kensington office is only 15 minutes from Center City, Philadelphia, and an easy 30-minute commute from Figueroa’s South Jersey home. Growing up, Figueroa spent many of her weekends in Philadelphia, with some of her fondest memories being the ones sparking her love for the life sciences.

“As a kid, I loved the Franklin Institute, and that’s one of the places that definitely got me into science,” said Figueroa. “There were a few years where I was awarded a scholarship for their summer camp, and we got to have free rein of the museum and see the behind-the-scenes of the exhibits, which was just the most awesome thing as a kid.”

Figueroa in part attributes her deep interest in the life sciences to her family, in particular her older brother.

“I remember sitting in on my brother’s homeschool science lessons and thinking, ‘this is so cool,’” said Figueroa. “My family was always so encouraging of my passion for STEM, and I ended up following that drive to study engineering in college, and I ultimately earned my bachelor’s in biophysics so that I could have a broad reach into the life sciences and go into pharmaceuticals if I wanted. I was typically the only girl in many of my classes, and I wanted to work to be that representation that I didn’t see – not only a woman, but a Hispanic woman in STEM.”

The natural sciences also appeal strongly to Figueroa, who, at 22 years old, is well on her way to her goal of visiting every U.S. national park by age 30. And the region’s accessibility lends itself to achieving that goal.

“It’s only a 25- to 30-minute drive to the Philadelphia airport from my house, so it’s been really easy to be able to plan trips. Over the past few years, I’ve been able to visit the Grand Canyon, Shenandoah, and Yosemite, to name a few.”

Also in her future, Figueroa plans to pursue an advanced degree. With many leading graduate programs and institutions in the Greater Philadelphia region, she will have numerous options from which to choose.

“In undergrad, I had a passion for how the brain works, so I would love to get my Ph.D. in neuroscience,” said Figueroa. “It would be great to be able to continue working and achieve a higher education at a school in the area. We’ll see what the future holds!”

To explore career opportunities in cell and gene therapy in the Greater Philadelphia region and join Figueroa and thousands of others in the mission to bring groundbreaking therapies to patients, visit Select Greater Philadelphia’s new job search tool here.

To learn more about what it means to live and work in the life sciences in Greater Philadelphia, watch more of our “Discovery Starts with Me” series here.