Crean College student starts organization to help kids study STEM

Steven Trinh ’22
Applied Human Physiology, Minor in Psychology
Tustin, California

Trinh’s research with Dr. Ajay Sharma of Chapman’s School of Pharmacy could help cure diabetes-related blindness.

Steven Trinh ’22 has spent the past year researching tear film and mucosal layer dysfunction and the pathogenesis of ocular surface diseases associated with diabetes and graft versus host disease. Simply put, Trinh says, “What we are looking at is basically the surface of the eye. That’s what it means when we talk about tear film. The surface of the eye is badly damaged when a patient has diabetes or graft versus host disease. And so what we’re looking at is potentially reversing that blindness.

The complex research earned Trinh, who specialized in human physiology applied to Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences, a National Eye Institute Competitive Travel Fellowship. This summer, he will attend the Association for Research and Vision Ophthalmology (ARVO) conference, where the team led by Dr Ajay Sharma of Chapman School of Pharmacy will present their findings. “We’re getting very promising results, with deep clinical applications,” Trinh says, “because if the treatment is as simple as hitting them with X-rays, then it’s a very minimally invasive procedure.”

While Trinh’s accomplishments in the lab are notable, his work supporting STEM learning in the community is even more impressive. During the COVID shutdowns, Trinh has established Think.Med, an organization that provides underserved children in Orange County with the opportunity to gain hands-on STEM experience.

“I recognized how privileged I was to attend a private institution and pursue a very rewarding path to a career in STEM,” says Trinh. It wasn’t always like this. As a member of an immigrant family who grew up speaking English as a second language, his environment was not always conducive to thinking as a scientist. “One of the things I always wanted to do was go to the elementary school science fair, but the playing field was never leveled initially,” he says.

But at age 10, armed with a science fair brochure and a trip to Walmart, Trinh won first place in his school, a win that became a pivotal moment in his career journey.

“I wanted to be able to give back in some way,” says Trinh, who lives near some of Orange County’s lowest-paying ZIP codes, like Santa Ana, Anaheim, Westminster and Garden Grove. “Especially to the Vietnamese community, which I am very close to,” he says.

So far, Think.Med, which is entirely student-run, has provided more than 20,000 free science kits to K-6 students, and their demographics have grown to include special education, high school students and children with cancer throughout the Camp. Kesem organization. Each week, kit recipients have the opportunity to speak with real scientists — Chapman faculty members from Crean and Schmid colleges.

As he prepares to graduate, Trinh tries to make Think.Med an official college club with Chapman’s Student Government Association. Eventually, it will be able to obtain the status of non-profit association. As for Trinh himself, he is preparing to apply to medical school.

“I want to be a pediatrician. I love working with children,” he says.

Learn more about Chapman University’s Class of 2022.

Virginia S. Braud