June 2015, Volume 19, Number 3

Making Their Mark


Ready to Take on the World

The Class of 2015 exuded determination to transform the future as close to 15,000 received their diplomas during Miami Dade College’s recent commencement ceremonies. Among the many stellar graduates this year were these eight outstanding scholars.

Understanding the Human Psyche: Brittany Robbins

Major: Psychology

GPA: 3.91

Final choice: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The unique intellect of Kendall Campus Honors College student Brittany Robbins is being noticed far beyond Miami Dade College. She was one of only 90 students throughout the country selected to receive the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which will cover the full cost of tuition up to $40,000 annually. Robbins wants to eventually earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.

“I know I want to help children, especially those who have suffered through traumatic experiences,” she said.

While at MDC, she participated in several significant academic experiences, including MDC’s Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria in 2014 and the Clinton Global Initiative University earlier this year in which she proposed creating a nonprofit organization for survivors of sexual violence.

Robbins also coordinated various campuswide events regarding eating disorders and participated in a walk in support of victims of domestic violence. This summer, she is taking on an ambitious 10-week internship at the University of Kentucky, conducting extensive research on the effects of alcohol on children and families.

“Brittany thinks at a very high level and writes as if she has already been published,“ said MDC psychology professor Dr. Kimberly Coffman. “She will excel at whatever she chooses.”

Counting His Blessings: Pierre Carrión

Major: Accounting

GPA: 4.0

Final choice: Boston University

Pierre Carrión’s time in the U.S. has been short, but he has built the start of a promising academic career in just a few years’ time.

Carrión, who moved to Miami from Ecuador after high school, began his college studies at Hialeah Campus in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program and was later admitted to MDC’s Honors College Dual Language Program at InterAmerican Campus as a result of his hard work and academic achievements. He simultaneously held down an almost full-time job to help support his ailing mother.

“It’s not easy to balance everything, but the time-management skills we learned in the Honors College are key,” Carrión said.

Carrión served as president of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and under his leadership, the chapter accomplished several firsts and more than doubled its membership. As a result, Carrión was recognized with the MDC Outstanding Student Organization Leader Award.

Planning to attain an MBA, Carrión wants to eventually start his own consulting business. He was the second of four MDC students selected to receive the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship.

Carrión will spend the summer honing his accounting skills as part of an internship with Libra Group, an international business conglomerate.

A Passion for Helping Others: Juan Valdes

Major: History

GPA: 3.92

Final choice: Amherst College

Juan Valdes’ college résumé reveals a clear theme: Whether it’s raising awareness about human trafficking, providing meals to the homeless or ensuring local constituents have their voices heard, he has spent his time at MDC focused on helping others.

Valdes served as vice president of Wolfson Campus’ Human Rights Alliance, where he helped organize local participation in the national One Billion Rising rally to end human trafficking and the abuse of women worldwide.

As part of his internship in the office of Florida Rep. José Félix Díaz, Valdes is responsible for reporting on the results of constituent surveys and helping residents get connected with social programs they may need.

Valdes – a history major – is considering law school in the future after getting a feel for the political realm as part of his internship.

“I know that whatever I do, I want to help people,” Valdes said. “How that goal will be realized, I don’t know yet, but that’s always been my goal.”

Topping off his achievements, Valdes was one of the impressive total of four MDC students this year who received the coveted Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship.

“I really thank God that I went to Miami Dade College,” Valdes said. “The whole support system is incredible, and the experiences I’ve had have changed my life forever.”

Saving the Tiniest Lives: Eleana Parajón

Major: Biology

GPA: 3.94

Final choice: Johns Hopkins University

Finishing her degree in biology has put Eleana Parajón one step closer to her goal of becoming a neonatologist, an ambition she has had since sixth grade when a family friend’s son was born prematurely.

Visiting the hospital regularly with her mother, she witnessed from afar how the neonatologists saved his life, and she became determined that one day she, too, would do the same for other babies.

“I’ve known that I wanted to be a doctor since I was a little kid, but it wasn’t until I saw them treating Gabriel that I knew I wanted to be a neonatologist,” she said.

After high school, she turned to MDC’s Honors College as the stepping stone to medical school. Studying at North Campus, she tutored her peers while serving as a Student Government Association senator, a Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) officer, an officer of the Pre-Med Pre-Pharmacy Club and director of PTK’s Honors in Action program, which this year involved a scholarly project on invasive species.

These activities and a stellar GPA earned her the respect of peers and professors, one of whom urged her to apply for a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation
Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which she won.

“It was a grueling application process, but it was so worth it,” she said. “I’ll be forever grateful that MDC faculty encouraged me along the way.”

Global Aspirations: Nerea Alvarez

Major: International Relations

GPA: 4.0

Final choice: Boston University

After being accepted to top universities around the naiton, it was clear InterAmerican Campus student Nerea Alvarez was going great places in life – the only question that remained was “Where first?”

With a scholarship offer in hand from Boston University, the Honors College graduate will head to the East Coast in the fall and sees herself with an MBA in just a few years.

“I am really interested in the private sector and want to be working with a corporation or consulting on business issues in Latin America or the Caribbean,” said Alvarez, who is completing an internship with MasterCard this summer.

In addition to her outstanding academic record, she participated in the Inside Washington seminar with her peers from the Honors College. The small delegation from Miami Dade College travels to the nation’s capital each winter to see government at work firsthand. During their visit and intensive study program in D.C., they meet representatives from the three branches of government.

“We had a conference with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, which was incredible,” Alvarez said. In addition, she traveled to Austria with the Honors College for their insightful Salzburg Global Seminar, which focuses on developing students’ sense of global citizenship.

Alvarez also found time for numerous service activities. She is the co-founder/engagements committee leader for Pencils of Promise (PoP), a club that increases educational opportunities in the developing world.

Actor, Editor and Activist: Miles Bryant

Major: Drama

GPA: 3.9

Final choice: University of Southern California

Focusing his studies on drama at Wolfson Campus, Honors College graduate Miles Bryant is looking ambitiously at the next step of his academic career at the University of Southern California, which offers very unique opportunities for actors due to its proximity to the nation’s epicenter of the film industry.

This spring, Bryant performed with Wolfson Campus’ Opera/Musical Theatre Ensemble in their production of In the Heights. He also has acted in a number of other presentations, notably Words, Words, Words by the Tony-nominated playwright David Ives. “That was the most difficult piece I have performed so far,” he said.

If the demanding coursework along with the rehearsal and performance itinerary of a student-actor weren’t enough to fill his schedule, Bryant also served as president of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) honor society, was presented a Presidential Volunteer Service Award for his numerous hours of helping others and took on the demanding job of editor of Wolfson Campus’ award-winning literary magazine Metromorphosis.

As much as Bryant loves acting and the literary arts, his aspirations range far beyond the stage and writing. Motivated to social and environmental activism during his time at MDC, he hopes to parlay a successful dramatic career into a platform for change.

“Being in college at MDC, I came to realize more and more what we are doing to the environment,” Bryant said. “Actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Emma Watson have been strong advocates for important causes and even have addressed the United Nations. I want to do the same.”

Engineering a Bright Future: Lucas Bowe

Major: Electrical Engineering

GPA: 4.0

Final choice: University of Florida

Graduating with a perfect GPA was a notch on the academic belt for Honors College student Lucas Bowe that he topped only by receiving the coveted MDC Board of Trustees Scholarship at North Campus’ commencement ceremony.

“When I heard them announce the winner, I was thinking to myself it can’t possibly be me,” Bowe said. “I was so surprised and excited.”

Bowe fielded numerous acceptance letters from a wide range of schools, but the University of Florida ultimately got his nod of approval due its exceptional research program and its strong engineering department.

“I feel like I was made for engineering,” Bowe said. “I want to work in the field for as long as I can.”

A member of Phi Theta Kappa and the Math Club, Bowe put his academic strengths to good use helping his fellow students by working as a peer tutor in math and chemistry during his time at MDC.

He credits MDC faculty with motivating him toward success, in particular physics professor Juan Catala.

“He’s a really great professor,” Bowe said. “I can’t thank him enough for making me better as a student and a person.”

Making Dreams Reality: Alicia Ciliezar

Major: Psychology

GPA: 3.9

Final choice: University of Florida

Growing up poor in La Ceiba, Honduras, Alicia Ciliezar longed to go to college in the United States. MDC – combined with her hard work – made that dream come true this spring when she completed an associate degree with impressive academic marks.

“I feel profoundly grateful to Miami Dade College,” Ciliezar said. “MDC has been the door of opportunity for me. When everyone else closed their doors, MDC gave me so many great ways to excel.”

Ciliezar has a long list of MDC accolades that culminated in her receiving the prestigious Board of Trustees Scholarship from Hialeah Campus. She served as president of Phi Theta Kappa honor society and a student ambassador of MDC’s Institute for Civic Engagement and Democracy. Her extensive service to the community, including work with the Women’s Breast Health and Heart Initiative, earned her the esteemed Mitchell Wolfson Scholarship and President’s Volunteer Service Award.

“The help the professors and staff at Miami Dade College have given me has been invaluable,” she said. “Even when I go off to another college, I will never forget MDC.”

Ciliezar aspires to attend medical school and then one day become a behavioral psychologist.

“Dreams remain dreams without hard work and determination,” she said. “I can sit here and tell you all the things I want to accomplish, but if I don’t study for that test or make the effort to apply for that internship, all those words would be empty.”

Ciliezar wants to instill this determination to succeed in others by someday creating an organization that inspires girls to excel in the same way that she did at MDC.

“The support that I received at MDC is a debt I can never repay,” she said. “But I am going to do the best I can to help ensure that others succeed and fulfill their dreams like I have.”


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