Commencement Spotlight: Samuel Garza

The 2023 Mann School Graduate Speaker went from being a first-generation college student to pursuing doctoral and master’s degrees—all while serving as president of USC’s Graduate Student Government.

Samuel Garza went from being a first-generation college student to earning his PhD in Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology alongside a master’s in Regulatory Science at the USC Mann School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. He also worked as a graduate research assistant while still finding time to advocate for more than 28,000 graduate and professional students as president of USC’s Graduate Student Government. Garza was the first-ever Mann School student to serve in the position.

Originally from the Inland Empire, Calif., Garza developed his passion for science at California State University, Los Angeles, where he earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in biology. From 2016 to 2018, he worked as graduate research fellow for Minority Opportunities in Research (MORE), a program funded by the National Institutes of Health that identifies highly motivated students and assists them in reaching their goals in obtaining doctoral degrees.

As his academic journey continued, Garza fell in love with biotechnology and pharmaceutical sciences while still an undergraduate. This led him to USC Mann—a school, in his words, that really positions students for success.

“Faculty and staff here are able to help you with whatever path you choose: academics, industry or government. There is always someone somewhere who can help you,” Garza said, referring to the school’s faculty and alumni network. “USC makes a promise and can keep that promise. This is unique to the university.”

Garza working in a lab at the Mann School. (Photo by Ed Carreon)

At USC Mann, Garza conducted research in the lab of Dean Vassilios Papadopoulos. In this capacity, he co-authored several peer-reviewed academic publications with Papadopoulos and fellow researchers—including two featuring Garza as first author. Meanwhile, his thesis involved investigating the pathophysiology and treatment of conditions related to insufficient steroid hormone biosynthesis. He also worked as a drug discovery and development intern with Eli Lilly and Company.

During his first year at USC, Garza joined the USC Graduate Student Government, which represents master’s and PhD candidates in addressing important issues with university administration and faculty. The organization also offers a range of supportive resources—from interdisciplinary events and professional development resources to emergency funding and child support subsidies.

Garza was elected president for the 2022–23 academic year, serving as lead advocate for more than 28,000 graduate and professional students at USC. During his tenure, he spearheaded a university-wide study that led to an increase in stipend for PhD students. Garza and team members collected data from USC graduates, analyzed living expenses and peer school data, and made recommendations to the administration.

Garza addressed an audience of more than 8,000 at USC’s convocation ceremony in August 2022. (Photo by Gus Ruelas)

In August 2022, Garza addressed an audience of more than 8,000 at USC’s convocation ceremony. It was an exhilarating experience, he said. “I thought about my academic journey and how my experience might help others—especially how I got past the difficult moments throughout my journey. When I arrived at USC, I felt anxious and overwhelmed by the academic pace and new environment. But one thing kept me grounded: my acceptance letter. So, as I said to my fellow students that day, ‘Whenever you are feeling overwhelmed, think back to that acceptance letter,’ because by gaining admission to USC, we’ve all accomplished something incredible.”

Garza is currently considering roles in pharmaceutical consulting and development. To build on the scientific and regulatory expertise honed at USC Mann, he also plans to explore strategic leadership opportunities, including examining how data can be used to drive what happens next in the fields of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences.

Samuel Garza will address the graduates at the 116th USC Mann Commencement on Saturday, May 13, 2023.