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The Ability of Opportunity and Environment to Transform Futures

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Author: Amanda Muñoz | Category: Beyond The Bench | Cancer Biology | Cancer Biology | July 06, 2017

Earlier this year, I completed a major milestone on my career path signifying the beginning of a new chapter in my life. This significant achievement was the completion of my doctoral dissertation and my successful defense of my dissertation. For those of us who have achieved or are nearing this goal, we know how difficult the journey can be and that attaining the goal comes with a profound sense of relief, triumph, joy, and pride rolled up into a ball of emotion. Upon completing my defense, I experienced all these feelings and reached out to those who were pivotal in my journey to celebrate the completion of this academic hurdle.

To say that my path was difficult may sound cliché, as true success is rarely easy, but it is the truth. I grew up in a large family that lived below the poverty line, and had a Hispanic surname. Combined, these elements make real success difficult for most people to attain due to a number of reasons including stereotyping, prejudice, and the poverty cycle. That does not mean that people like myself do not dream of ways to improve their life or the lives of their family members. For a while, it seemed like I would just be another statistic with big dreams that conformed to the expectations of someone from by background. However, I never stopped wanting more out of life or let circumstance wear me down. My desire to have a better life and brighter future is why I went back to school to get my bachelor’s degree after graduating high school nearly five years before.

Since making that decision, I have met many wonderful people at New Mexico State University and UT Health San Antonio. At New Mexico State University, I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Dan Howard (Provost and former Biology Chair), Dr. Maria Castillo (Assistant Professor), and Dr. Elba Serrano (Professor and Head of the MBRS-RISE Program). These three people played integral roles in my doctoral journey by providing a supportive environment and opportunity to gain valuable experience. Their mentorship and guidance were especially meaningful when I had very little support from my friends and family. It was with their encouragement that I decided to apply for graduate school to continue the doctoral journey I had started when my family asked me to just be happy with the bachelor’s degree.

Similar to my experience at New Mexico State University, I have found at UT Health San Antonio that the right supportive environment and opportunities can make a huge difference in someone’s ability to persevere through hardship and keep sight of their goal. Dr. Nicquet Blake has played crucial role for me in this regard as she has supported me through some of the most difficult times a student can face – namely having to change labs. In addition, being on her IMSD training grant provided me with an opportunity to find my feet again and make significant progress towards getting my doctoral degree. In my dissertation mentor’s (A. Pratap Kumar) lab, I got the opportunity to finish my degree and forge my academic family who are and will continue to be important supporters of my career for the rest of my life.

Looking back at my journey now, it is still hard to believe that I have come so far in the last twelve years that it has taken me to get my doctoral degree. There were a few occasions where I really did not know if I would continue my degree, but thankfully I was given the support I needed to see the light at the end of the tunnel during each of those hard times. I know that I would not have weathered the storms along my path – represented by the loss of loved ones, familial struggles, financial hardships (the reason I was forced to seek a new lab) and a degree of prejudice – were it not for the supportive atmosphere generated by the faculty members and administrators at both universities.

In May, Dan reached out to me and explained that he wanted to include my story on one of his regular blog posts to the New Mexico State University community. I am honored by Dan’s kind words about me. He is right about the ability of a university’s environment to have a significant and transforming effect on the lives of its students. I know that I would not be where I am today without the supportive environments or opportunities provided to me at both New Mexico State University and UT Health San Antonio. Looking to the future, I believe it is important that we help maintain and expand both the supportive environment and potential opportunities that are important factors to the success of students. Maintaining these elements to success will ensure that we can positively transform people’s lives whether they are students, patients, or faculty.

The full post, “Transforming Lives,” by Dan Howard can be viewed at the following link.

This article was written by Amanda Rae Muñoz, a recent graduate of the Cancer Biology discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program

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