Where Are They Now? with Samantha & Maria Mata

Jan. 30, 2024
Two women smiling and hugging each other

Maria (left) & Samantha (right) Mata; “We share our journeys and inspire each other along the way.”

Meet Samantha and Maria Mata! Sisters and Earth Grant alums, these young leaders share their past experiences in the Earth Grant program and how it has strengthened their impactful work in public health, education, and city planning.


Tell us a little about yourself, your community (however you define it), and your past work with Earth Grant.

Maria Mata:

I am a Junior at the University of Arizona, pursuing a double major in Sustainable Built Environments and French. Having commenced my academic journey in Tucson three years ago, I am originally from Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, where I spent eighteen years of my life. In my family, I am the youngest of two siblings, and my sister, Samantha, has always been one of my greatest inspirations.

My academic pursuits and professional interests converge around my commitment to sustainable design, conservation, and women's rights. Under the opportunity of the Earth Grant, I have engaged in meaningful collaboration with Southwest Decision Resources, a facilitation company specializing in assisting various agencies and stakeholders in making well-informed decisions on natural resource management, community development, and public policy issues. This collaborative effort involves navigating complex issues by working closely with diverse partners.

My involvement with Southwest Decision Resources commenced with my participation in their facilitation training program, equipping me with the skills necessary for the work I undertook during that initial year and continue to contribute to today. Notably, I had the privilege of representing the organization at the Southwest Adaptation Forum in Albuquerque, NM—an impactful project that marked the beginning of my professional journey. Throughout my internship, my primary focus was directed towards collaborating with the City of Tucson Planning Department on the comprehensive update for the Plan of the City of Tucson, which has been extremely beneficial because it has showed the how’s and why’s of the work I want to do once I graduate, city planning. 

Samantha Mata:

Hi! My name is Samantha Mata Robles and I’m a Biomedical Engineer (UA’23) from Mexico. I’m currently pursuing my PhD in Biomedical Engineering and Masters in Public Health at Purdue University. 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in helping others by addressing the challenges underserved communities face. When I had the opportunity to merge my passions together in a research lab (Dr. Yoon Biosensors Lab at UA) I didn’t hesitate to get started. Alongside my mentor we investigated simple and cost-effective ways to detect COVID-19 back in the pandemic, and PFOA detection in wastewater. Through my journey with the later project, I learnt how important the environment is in human health and at achieving equity. As I became more passionate about this topic, a mentor, Stephanie Bermudez, encouraged me to apply to Earth Grant. During this program I had the opportunity to work with StartUp Unidos on the development of a 2-day collaborative event in which we empowered and educated the youth about environmental activism topics. As well as work on the development of curriculum for an education program on food waste, in addition to a startup weekend in Nogales.

What have you been up to since graduating from Earth Grant? Any new journeys professionally, personally, or in community?

Maria Mata:

Upon completing the Earth Grant program, I sought opportunities with WISE in their Bio/Diversity Project. Since Fall 2024, I have been actively engaged in teaching at K-12 schools, a commitment I continue to uphold. This experience has not only uncovered a previously undiscovered passion for imparting scientific knowledge but has also provided me with a profound sense of fulfillment.

Witnessing the genuine enthusiasm and understanding reflected in the faces of students during experiments and moments of comprehension has been a uniquely gratifying experience. The internship with WISE has significantly influenced my professional trajectory, leading me to contemplate a career in education post-graduation. The prospect of contributing to the academic development of future generations has become an appealing and meaningful pathway for my future endeavors.

Samantha Mata:

After graduating from Earth Grant, I continued my research journey in Dr. Yoon’s Biosensors Lab and worked on finishing up the PFOA detection project, and began researching Lyme detection. Additionally, I began working in an Optics Research Lab. 

As previously mentioned, I’m currently in graduate school, working on ways to affordably detect treatable infectious diseases with a Human Centered Design focused. This last Fall I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya to train lab technicians in our protocols and methods for an HIV collaborative study. 

In my school’s community I work with the BME Graduate Student Association, as well as outreach with Women in Engineering.

How has your experience at Earth Grant helped to prepare you for these new ventures?

Maria Mata:

The Earth Grant internship has been instrumental in propelling my immersion into the professional realm aligned with my interests. This experience has played a pivotal role in my preparation for graduation, instilling in me a heightened sense of readiness to transition into the workforce. Early exposure to the responsibilities and methodologies of planners during my college career has not only reinforced my dedication to this career path but has also bolstered my confidence in taking the next professional step.

Earth Grant's commitment to providing exemplary mentors has been a significant contributor to my growth during this internship. My mentors, Tahnee Robertson and Colleen Whitaker, have been invaluable guides, offering support, motivation, and numerous opportunities for professional development. Their dedication to my success and fulfillment in the professional arena has left a lasting impact, for which I am sincerely grateful.

Samantha Mata:

Throughout my year in the Earth Grant program, I had the amazing opportunity to learn a lot of professional and personal skills not only from Leona and her amazing workshops, but from all the members of my cohort. I was fortunate enough to develop the ability to design a project from an initial (most times unclear and messy) idea efficiently; to know how to collaborate with people from different fields; how to be an advocate for different causes, for others, and for myself; about policy and the impacts it has in everyone’s lives and initiatives; among many other things. 

All of these, and my experience as a whole, has helped me to be better prepared, a better team member, and a better person.

Any advice you’d like to give to young leaders aspiring to do the same kind of work that you do?

Maria Mata: 

A key piece of advice I would offer is to surround yourself with individuals who inspire and propel you toward continuous improvement. Surround yourself with those who actively contribute to your goal achievement. Early immersion in your chosen field of interest is vital; it lays the foundation for a sense of preparedness when transitioning into the professional arena. Embrace the journey, relish every moment, and make the most of the opportunities presented. While pursuing your goals, find joy in the process. 

Samantha Mata:

My advice is nothing fancy but something that has come really handy to me. 

There is something to learn in everything. If it’s perfect, if it’s bad, even if everything that could possibly go wrong goes wrong. Every experience we go through, every person we meet has something to teach us that we don’t know. Stay humble enough to be able to recognize new knowledge when it’s in front of you and be grateful for such opportunities and people.