Consuelo Baez Vega had a plan. When she entered Chico State as a transfer student from College of the Desert, she was going to put her head down, quietly complete the required coursework to earn her degree, then return to her hometown of Thermal and resume her life.

Instead, when the plant and soil science major graduates this spring, Baez Vega will leave Chico State with a job lined up in research, friendships to last a lifetime, and dreams to take her education even further.

“Chico State has given me so much more than I ever expected,” she said. “My first semester, professor Ana Medic approached me with the opportunity to do research through [Chico STEM Connections Collaborative], and from there it has evolved into more opportunities than I could have imagined.”

At the time, the thought of a professor knowing her name, let alone personally inviting her to conduct undergraduate research, seemed wild. The first in her family to attend college, Baez Vega’s expectations about college were rooted in stories she had heard in high school—that professors were impersonal and unapproachable, and that she would be just a number in a large lecture hall.

“Nothing could be further from the truth at Chico State,” she said. “I learned quickly that the professors truly care about you and want to see you succeed.”

That initial invitation from Medic led to a series of research projects and job opportunities for quiet, hard-working Baez Vega. From testing weed management practices in fava bean production to exploring cover cropping in walnut orchards, these opportunities have furthered a love for agriculture that began in the farm fields of the Coachella Valley, where she worked in strawberries, garlic, grapes, and bell peppers while attending community college.

“I got my associate’s degree in natural resources because I like to be outside. But considering all of my career options, I thought, ‘Well I’ve already worked in the fields for little pay, so I know I can do the work and I enjoy working with plants, so why not agriculture’? Plant and soil science keeps me ‘grounded’ as it takes me back to my ‘roots,‘” she quipped.

Realizing that a bachelor’s degree would open up more career options, she decided on Chico State after reading about the University Farm on the college’s website. Little did she know how many hours she would spend there, soaking up the sun amid its row crops and orchards while cultivating a deep passion for research.

Not prone to self-promotion, Baez Vega is reticent to talk about her achievements since joining the College of Agriculture, but her faculty are happy to do it for her.

“Connie is a one-of-a-kind student,” Medic said. “She is very organized, responsible, detailed oriented, and always ready to help others.”

A “natural” in Betsy Boyd’s entomology class, Baez Vega was invited to work for her as a grader. She also enrolled in a special projects class led by Boyd to develop future curricular projects to assist students in learning entomology and to help close equity gaps.

“Connie is a tremendously bright and gifted young mind, and I’ve been very fortunate to have met and worked with her during her time at Chico State,” Boyd said.

After graduation, Baez Vega will be working with the University of California Cooperative Extension to address weeds and invasive species in rice.

Baez Vega has worked on several research projects and presented her work at three separate poster competitions, including the American Society of Agronomy’s virtual meeting in 2020, where she took first place in the crop production and management category. Additionally, she co-authored an article with Medic in The California State University Journal of Sustainability and Climate Change. The article, “Benefits of Cover Cropping Systems in Walnut Orchards as Sustainable Agricultural Practice,” explores the feasibility of using different kinds of cover crops in walnut orchards as a way to increase the soil’s quality, improve biological management through the rise of natural beneficial predators, and enhance integrated pest management systems.

“I am incredibly proud of her,” Medic said. “I strongly believe her remarkable work will continue and we will hear more about her future accomplishments.”

Baez Vega’s future focus is on helping farmers sustainably feed a hungry world through applied agricultural research and outreach. She currently works for University of California, Davis as an agriculture technician at the Rice Experiment Station in Biggs with fellow Wildcat Saul Estrada (Crops, Horticulture, and Land Resource Management, ’19), who is testing herbicides in rice production.

Upon graduation, she will join UC Cooperative Extension advisor Whitney Brim-DeForest to work on the problem of weedy rice and other invasive species throughout Northern California. Eventually, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in sustainable and regenerative agriculture.

Perhaps the biggest lesson Baez Vega has learned in her time at Chico State is the same advice she would give other students: “Don’t underestimate yourself. You are more capable than you believe—even if it doesn’t feel like it,” she said.

“You just have to believe in yourself a little bit,” she continued, almost as if reminding herself.

If there was ever any question of Baez Vega’s capabilities, the recognition as the 2022 Star Student in Plant and Soil Science and Outstanding Graduate in Plant and Soil Science—as well as the magna cum laude medallion she’ll get to wear at Commencement—should help put that to rest.