Attaining her 'dream in the sky' at Mason

Linda Chilin
Linda Chilin, who has a bachelor's degree from Mason in community health, and a master's in biology, began her relationship with the university through its Early Identification Program and has continued into a PhD program. Photo by Lathan Goumas.

Linda Chilin lives every day with the uncertainty of her status in the United States.

Chilin, whose family came from El Salvador in 2000, when she was 9 years old, has temporary protected status (TPS), an immigration status provided by the U.S. government to nationals of countries destabilized by war or catastrophe.

For those who left El Salvador after a civil war and two devastating earthquakes, TPS designations, if not renewed, will expire on Sept. 9, 2019.

“I can’t control that situation, so I try not to worry about it. I just keep focusing on my goals,” Chilin said. “I have a lot of support from family and friends and George Mason University, as well.”

Chilin, 28, is quite a star at Mason, where she is one of the few students to begin their relationship with the university through its Early Identification Program (EIP) and continue into a PhD program.

EIP provides educational resources to middle and high school students who will be first in their family to attend college. Chilin earned her bachelor’s degree in community health at Mason in 2013, her master’s degree in biology in 2017 and has been accepted for PhD studies in biosciences. She also worked as an administrative assistant in Mason’s School of Systems Biology and as a program assistant for University Life.

“Everything that I am I owe to the university,” Chilin said. “I wouldn’t be where I am now if it weren’t for the EIP program. It changed my life completely.”

“She’s just really tenacious,” said Lewis E. Forrest II, associate dean for University Life, who met Chilin while she was in EIP. “Quietly, every step of the way, she has met the mark for everything she wanted to do.”

What Chilin wants to do is teach at a university while researching cures and therapeutics for patients with HIV. She is currently assisting Mason professor Yuntao Wu, who is researching a protein that mobilizes cells to fight infections.

That said, had you asked Chilin about her future while she was in EIP, she probably would have predicted being an artist because she enjoys painting. But over time, science intrigued her. She said she became hooked during her master’s program while learning about viruses, which led to her interest in HIV research.

“One of the things I like about science is…you are always seeking the truth. You are trying to find actual facts, and that’s very valuable to me,” Chilin said. “I like the idea that there are so many things we don’t know, and science is a good way of clarifying things.”

What is clear for Chilin, whose sister, Jessica, is pursuing her master’s degree at Georgetown, is the remarkable path she and her family have traveled.

She called being accepted into a PhD program “a dream in the sky.”

“My mom is a single parent. We were immigrants. We don’t have stable immigrant status,” Chilin said. “All the odds were against us, but somehow, some way, I had so many people help me. Without EIP, without all the people who believed in me, it would not have been possible. I feel like I’m standing on their shoulders.”