Top Graduates of 2014
Talent abounds at Miami Dade College, where students achieve impressive academic goals that prepare them for continued success at the nation’s top universities. Here’s a glimpse of a few of this year’s outstanding graduates.
Entering the Ivy League: Andy Alfonso
“Life is multifarious: as simple as a bacterium or as complex as a human being. It’s our everyday decisions that determine its simplicity or complexity.”
Andy Alfonso lives by these words to streamline his packed schedule while maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA. But this quote isn’t one he jotted down from a lecture. Instead, the 20-year-old coined the phrase himself after doing research at Jackson Memorial Hospital as part of his MDC coursework. And he used it to explain his outlook on life when applying to Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, Yale and Cornell, where he will be heading this fall.
While Alfonso expresses himself eloquently, words haven’t always come easily, at least not in English. When he moved to Miami from Cuba three years ago, he felt intimidated speaking a new language, especially because he had been ranked No. 1 among 1,000 talented students in his 10th-grade class at his highly competitive high school.
“My life began all over again when an MDC advisor said ‘You’ve been here forever, right, since your English is so good?’ It was just the boost I needed.”
No longer shy in his second language, Alfonso exudes energy and ambition. “If I could sing instead of talk, I would.”
Devoted to helping others, Alfonso received the President’s Volunteer Service Award for tutoring his peers in math, chemistry, physics and English. He also received the coveted MDC Board of Trustees Scholarship at InterAmerican Campus’ commencement ceremony. He served as president of the National Society of Leadership and Success and vice president of Leadership and Scholarships in MDC’s Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. He also took part in the Harvard-MDC Latino Leadership Retreat and Honors College Salzburg Seminar. In addition, he worked on MDC fundraisers, including TECHO to build homes in impoverished areas and Knit Into Love to help those with cancer.
“I see myself becoming the youngest neurosurgeon/intracranial tumor researcher in the best hospital in a third-world country,” Alfonso said. “It could be anywhere I’m needed, from the Congo or India to South Africa.”
Although this might sound complicated, for this man of multifarious talents, life really is as easy as wholeheartedly going for it.
Legal Rights for All: Danielle Rose
When Danielle Rose arrived at MDC’s Kendall Campus, she hoped her time at the College would help her develop personally and academically.
“I was really looking forward to an opportunity to grow as a person, develop my leadership potential and become more independent,” said Rose, who admitted she wasn’t quite ready to leave home after high school.
Two years later, she’s accomplished that and so much more.
Through her experiences in MDC’s Honors College, she’s gained a clear vision of her goals in life. An exhilarating trip to Washington, D.C., where she met representatives of Congress and attended the presidential inauguration, confirmed her desires to become a civil rights attorney.
“I have had so many amazing experiences through MDC’s Honors College, and that trip really inspired me and helped clarify what it was I wanted to do with my life, which is advocate for people who aren’t as well represented as they should be,” she said.
Waiting to hear from Georgetown University, Rose plans to major in history with possibly a double major in political science. Then law school will be in her future.
“Growing up as a minority, I’ve been more sensitive to issues that people go through,” said Rose, who is of Jamaican and Chinese descent. “I would like to represent others who have gone through similar experiences.”
In addition to her 4.0 GPA, Rose is proud of her work as a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and Kendall Campus’ Political Awareness Club.
“My mantra is ‘The best is yet to be,’” said Rose. “This quote is actually on my bedroom wall. It continues to inspire me, because I believe that no matter what is occurring in the present, you must always keep a positive mindset that good things will happen in your life.”
Compassionate Health Care: Naphtalie Armand
If you had told Naphtalie Armand four years ago that she would be receiving the coveted MDC Medical Campus Board of Trustees Scholarship, she wouldn’t have believed you.
“I never could have imagined getting this honor,” said the 24-year-old nursing graduate who came to Miami in 2010 after an earthquake in Haiti destroyed her home, forcing her and her family to move. “It was a very tough time for us, but the education I’ve received at Miami Dade College has put me on the road to helping others in the future.”
Completing an associate degree with a 3.79 GPA, Armand is now studying for the nursing NCLEX board exam. She plans to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing at MDC, then a doctorate so she can teach.
“During my hospital rotations with MDC Professor Paula Bonawitz, I was so impressed with how she taught us to care for patients with such compassion that I want to teach others how to do that, too,” she said. “I hope to one day volunteer where there is such a great need for health care professionals, be it Haiti, Guatemala, Africa or the Dominican Republic, anywhere where there is a call for nurses.”
Armand’s extensive volunteer work in MDC service learning projects has already drawn notice, earning her the President’s Volunteer Service Award. She participated in MDC health fairs, tutored at Kendall Campus’ ACCESS department by helping students who have disabilities and walked door-to-door using her fluency in Creole to inform women about the importance of screening for breast cancer.
Working beyond MDC, Armand also shared her talent for teaching students of all skill levels by tutoring at Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami, which offers after-school programs for kids in kindergarten through the 12th grade.
When not in the classroom or volunteering, Armand works in the Kendall Campus Technology Department and tutors her peers.
“At MDC, I have received a lot of support from students and faculty, otherwise I wouldn’t have made it as far as I did,” said Armand, who is a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, Medical Campus Student Nurse Association and National Student Nurse Association. “So many people have helped me along the way that I now am glad I can help others.”
Determined to Help Our Nation's Heroes: Fernanda Chow
It’s heart-wrenching to see high-school friends who served the nation return home maimed by war. Few people deal well with that harsh reality, let alone find a way to make things better. But Fernanda Chow is determined to do just that.
“I have lots of friends in the military, and many returned without limbs,” Chow said. “It’s so hard for them and not fair. Yet they hold their heads high, and we are safe because of them. My goal is to help them by developing new prosthetics.”
The 20-year-old is well along her way to achieving this. As a child growing up in Honduras, she wanted to study medicine to become a surgeon. As a teen, she began developing her math skills after a calculus teacher pointed out her exceptional talent for numbers.
“It all fell into place in The Honors College at MDC,” said Chow. “I figured out that by focusing on biomedical engineering, I could combine these different abilities in a way that would one day help my friends.”
A top student in InterAmerican Campus’ Dual Language Program, Chow is the first in her family to graduate from college. She maintained an impressive 3.89 GPA while completing an associate degree with a focus in biology. A top candidate when applying to prestigious schools, including the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chow chose the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when she was offered a full scholarship.
In addition to studying hard at MDC, Chow served as a peer-to-peer tutor in math, calculus and trigonometry. She also was a member of the Math and Chemistry Club, the Engineers for a Sustainable World Club and the Campus Presidents’ Leadership Academy, which recently conducted a collegewide Human Trafficking Awareness Campaign.
“We created a huge maze to show how difficult it is to break the bonds of human trafficking,” Chow said. Using art, poetry and photography, the maze transported those who walked its corridors down the complex socio-economic and political pathways that entrap so many people around the globe.
For more on the maze, see Page 7.
Indomitable Spirit: Sean McKenzie
Sean McKenzie epitomizes what it means to overcome odds.
“Growing up, it was definitely a challenge – more than most people face,” said McKenzie, who graduated from MDC’s North Campus. “We were almost homeless at one point. We lived in a church kitchen. Those were rough times, but we made it through. It developed my resolve – an indomitable spirit, as I call it.”
Without the financial means to attend college, McKenzie turned to MDC, where he was accepted into The Honors College on a full scholarship.
“It was really a miracle,” he said. “In high school, I was not a high achiever. I really look at it like MDC made an investment in me. They saw my potential.”
McKenzie made the most of his time at Miami Dade College, graduating with a near perfect GPA and a roster of academic involvement that included Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, MDC Investment Club, Phi Beta Lambda and Model United Nations, among others. He also dedicated many hours to helping others by tutoring his peers in math, calculus, accounting and economics.
“It goes back to the rough childhood I had,” McKenzie said. “I really feel that I have to give back to those who need help, because there were times in my life when I needed help.”
Perhaps most impressive is his dedication to continuing his studies. McKenzie enrolled in a mind-boggling 10 courses his last semester at MDC to help bolster his odds of being accepted into the nation’s top universities, where he plans to study economics.
“I applied to lots of great school and will be going to Georgetown University in the fall,” said McKenzie, who wakes up at 2:45 nearly every morning to do schoolwork. He also has several part-time jobs, including playing bass at a local church and helping his dad as a mechanic. In addition, he’s a licensed Realtor.
“I’m working constantly all day,” he said. “Every day is very hectic, but I’m determined to succeed.”
A Statesman in the Making: Jeffrey Romeu
Born in Havana, raised in Hialeah, headed for Washington, D.C., and nurturing serious international aspirations, Jeffrey Romeu is destined to go far in life. After finishing his studies in political science at MDC, he is heading off to the U.S. State Department in the nation’s capital this summer to participate in the exclusive Foreign Service Internship Program. Then the following summer, he will be putting lessons learned this year to use while working alongside Foreign Service officials implementing policy at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.
This impressive internship is just one of Romeu’s many accomplishments at MDC. During his studies, he has sported a 3.80 GPA, served as president of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society at Hialeah Campus and received the Academic Excellence Award for Social Sciences.
“We elevated MDC’s PTK to a five-star rating,” the proud president said.
Further preparing him for future leadership, Romeu recently took part in the National Model United Nations at U.N. headquarters in New York City, in which students research and present solutions to real-world problems.
“For those studying international affairs, this is the epitome,” said Romeu. “My group represented Australia. We developed plans, worked out multilateral deals, wrote position papers and debated the case for our proposals.”
With his strong MDC background, Romeu has been accepted to American University and the University of Miami. He’s also waiting on word from Yale and Georgetown. In addition, he received the coveted MDC Board of Trustees Scholarship at Hialeah Campus’ commencement in May.
“After getting a bachelor’s degree, I’ll head to law school and then go into the State Department or international law,” he said.
Aside from academic and career pursuits, Romeu is a talented actor and playwright. He won a Certificate of National Merit from the League for Innovation for his screenplay Political Deception and has performed in 40 plays, including Hamlet, God of Carnage and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Grateful for the foundation built at MDC, Romeu said, “Whatever the future holds for me, I will always remember it all started here at MDC.”