To understand the future we must go back in time-my journey!

As a first generation college graduate from an immigrant family, I understand the value of perseverance and hard work. My parents immigrated from Central America to the United States when they were in their early teens. My mom dropped out of high school at the age of 17 because she became a teenage mom. And my dad dropped out of high school his a senior year because he wanted to always party, and did not really care about earning his high school diploma. My parents have always had jobs that are considered “blue” collar jobs. My dad owns a custodial business, and my mom is a cosmetologist. My parents have always worked long hours, and would have to work more than one job to pay the bills. The bravery of my parents to come to a foreign place and leave everything they knew behind has been my motivation all these years to continue my education.

Growing up, they would always tell me to get an education so that I can become a professional and not work long hours. Their understanding was that if I were to become a professional, I would not be forced to work more than one job to makes “ends-meet.” As a sophomore in high school I would go help my dad clean at jobs from about 5pm to about 11pm. I recall one time asking him if he would get paid overtime if his job required him to clean longer than the expected 5 hours “cleaning time”. His response was “No son. I do not get paid overtime. Even though I may stay here cleaning longer that the expected time. They will pay me for 5 hours of work, regardless if it takes me 2 hours or 8 hours to clean.” Then he stated the importance of becoming a professional, because as a professional you get paid for all the hours you work. This memory has always eaten away at me because I would see how hard my parents would work, and how physically demanding “blue” collar jobs are on the body.

Although my parents did not earn their high school diploma, my parents always preached the importance of hard work, sacrifice, responsibility, and effort to become the best I could be-professionally and personally. I can recall multiple times when I wanted to give up going to college because I felt that I was not fit to learn biology. My parents would tell me to not give up and for me to remember that I did not want to end up working long hours with little pay, like them. The consistent verbal reminders from my loving parents and the emotional memories of them working so hard has always brought me courage to pursue higher education.

Myasthenia Gravis is a rare autoimmune disorder that I have been dealing with since I was 12 years old. This illness causes me to experience severe muscle weakness on my face, throat, arms, and legs. Diagnosed with this rare disorder sparked my interest to study biology. I originally studied biology to become a medical doctor because I wanted to get a better understanding of how my illness is affecting my body. Throughout, the first half of my undergraduate career, I was keen on becoming a medical doctor. But during my junior year of undergrad, my cell biology professor asked me why I initially became a biology major. I explained to him that I wanted to be working in an environment where I use my biological knowledge to solve unknown biological questions. Specifically, I told him that I want to work on finding better therapeutics or even a cure for people dealing with auto-immune disorders. He explained to me that my innate interests were more aligned with a scientists’ mentality, rather than a medical doctor. After this conversation with him, I began to explore my options around me. After a couple of months, I began to volunteer in a research lab.

I joined Dr. Blake Riggs’ lab in June 2015. I remember joining the lab and feeling like “a deer in headlights” after the first week. As a novice scientist, I began to feel a lot of self doubt, lack of belonging, and overall terrible self-communication. This imposter syndrome created a large burden on myself emotionally because I began to question my identity. Being the extrovert I am, I told Dr. Riggs my feelings. Dr. Riggs, a tough guy by appearance, is an extremely supportive mentor. He would always tell me that I should not doubt myself because I bring an added quality to the research lab. It took me over a year to become comfortable being in the lab. Due to my parents instilling in me the importance of hard-work and effort, not only am I a graduate student in Dr. Blake Riggs’ lab, but I am also on my journey on becoming a professional biologist!