Roseanne Carmen Rosenthal at UC Riverside on July 31, 2019. (UCR/Stan Lim)
August 9, 2019

Earning her chances

This 59-year-old mom and UCR alumna is working on her doctorate in psychology

Author: Sandra Baltazar Martínez
August 9, 2019

Roseanne Carmen Rosenthal’s latest achievements have come by chance — or at least that’s what she thinks.

But luck alone doesn’t account for the seven courses she took during spring quarter in order to complete her bachelor’s degree — and the 3.36 GPA she earned doing it — while also meeting deadlines for a doctoral program application.  

For the past four years, this 59-year-old mother of six adult children has plowed through her schooling. In less than two months, she completed her high school diploma courses. Rosenthal then enrolled at Norco College and was admitted into their honor’s program. She transferred to the University of California, Riverside, just in time for the 2018 winter quarter.

This June, Rosenthal graduated with a double major in psychology and Native American studies. A week later, she started working in a UCR psychology lab, conducting research on transgenerational effects of alcohol and the impacts of ingesting alcohol during pregnancy. This fall she begins coursework for her doctorate in psychology at UCR. 

Rosenthal always dreamed of becoming a doctor, but never imagined she would conduct neuroscience research with Kelly Huffman, associate professor of psychology, who studies the molecular development and evolution of the neocortex. 

“Growing up, I just didn’t know there was anything else in medicine besides becoming a doctor or a nurse. Here, I discovered a whole other world,” Rosenthal said. “I never thought I had it in me to go into neuroscience. Dr. Huffman encouraged me, believed in me when I had little faith in myself. She made me fall in love with research,” Rosenthal said.  

Roseanne Carmen Rosenthal and her husband, Philippe Rosenthal. (Courtesy of Roseanne Rosenthal)

Rosenthal wants to focus her research on understanding how alcohol affects gene expression over generations, and more specifically on how alcohol impacts Native American communities. She wants to offer nutrition and alcohol education while integrating culture and tradition. Rosenthal is part Mescalero, Apache, and Tewa. 

Her dream to pursue a college education was derailed when she dropped out of high school in order to help her mother shoulder household responsibilities.    

“We were always one week away from being homeless,” Rosenthal recalled of growing up in Los Angeles. At age 16, she found a job as a file clerk at a medical insurance company. She quickly became a Medi-Cal and Medicare biller, then found a job as an emergency room clerk. The hospital environment made her feel a step closer to her dream of becoming a doctor.

In her late 30s, Rosenthal obtained a GED diploma and completed a vocational nursing program. 

She eventually became a nurse administrator and by coincidence, she said, found the UCR Extension Center’s forensic nursing certificate program. Soon after, her youngest child turned 20. What was once a household with six small children became a space occupied only by Rosenthal and her husband of 33 years, Philippe. 

Philippe is her number one supporter and cheerleader, she said. College has been a real tag-team effort; they carpool every day, he drops her off on his way to work in San Bernardino. Many evenings he waits around until she’s done with assignments or meetings. Earlier this year Rosenthal founded the UCR Native American Honor Society. She also chairs the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, acts as public relations officer for the Native American Student Association, and is a member of Psi Chi, the psychology honor society.    

Coming to school later in life has turned out better than she imagined, Rosenthal said.

“I have family here. My professors were very supportive, very proud. The Native American Student Programs office was very proud too,” she said. “Had I gone to school straight out of high school, I’m sure things would not have turned out this way.”

Roseanne Carmen Rosenthal points to the autograph by Robert Rosenthal, UCR distinguished professor of psychology. (UCR/Stan Lim)

One of the main factors that prompted her decision to apply to UCR was Robert Rosenthal (no relation), a UCR distinguished professor of psychology, one of the world’s most influential psychologists. 

She made the effort to meet him in person, attended a seminar, purchased some of his books, and had him autograph one. In it, Robert Rosenthal addressed her as his “colleague.” She was floored because she refers to him as “the god of psychology.”

Her dedication to school has been rewarded with the Dean’s Distinguished Fellowship and Barnett Grier awards. 

Despite her belief that chance played a part in her success, Rosenthal is certain that her six children were part of a bigger plan. As are her nine grandchildren. 

“I always tell my kids, you are the one thing I never regretted in my life,” Rosenthal said. “You were meant to be.”  

Rosenthal family. (Courtesy of Roseanne Rosenthal)

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