Miami, April 13, 2017 – Driven by hope and inspiration, even tragedy and challenges, Miami Dade College (MDC) graduates are a testament to power of the human spirit. This month, nearly 14,000 students from MDC’s eight campuses will reach for their college dreams as they walk across the stage with diplomas at five Commencement Ceremonies, Saturday, April 29.
MDC’s 2017 graduates represent more than 190 countries and speak more than 90 languages. They are game changers, many already making a significant impact on their communities and intent on addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues through scientific research, health care, international relations, technology, entrepreneurship, business development, and much more.
Meet some of this year’s outstanding graduates:
Born in the Netherlands and raised throughout Europe, Alexandra Fazekas hopes to continue her studies in journalism at Emerson College, Columbia University, or Syracuse University, among the transfer schools where she’s applied. At MDC, she learned leadership skills as part of the Student Government Association. “I thank MDC for supporting me and encouraging my wildest ideas and dreams,” Frazekas said.
Alina Garcia, a biological sciences major, is the first in her family to graduate from college. The daughter of Cuban immigrants wants to become an optometrist. Garcia excelled at MDC, receiving a 2015-16 Academic Excellence Award in chemistry and participated in the 2017 Phi Beta Kappa Florida Region Essay Competition. She was a math mentor and also participated in a mentoring program at Miami Children’s Museum.
Joy Barnes, who was homeschooled, wanted to attend a college where she could adjust at her own pace. She chose MDC’s Homestead Campus because of its welcoming and warm environment that felt more like a community than college. She even turned her experience into an article, “Homeschooling Lays Groundwork for College Success,” which was published in the South Dade News Leader. She was also interviewed for NBC News during College Week. Barnes was awarded the Bronze Presidential Volunteer Service Award in 2016. She graduates with an associate degree in biology and plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, as well as criminal justice.
Jeffrey Rodriguez always loved video games, so he taught himself C++ coding. His other talents include playing the violin, trumpet and drums. Rodriguez is a National Hispanic Scholar, a Chapman House for the Homeless volunteer, and a Relay for Life fundraising coordinator. He is a recipient of the $200,000 Posse Foundation Scholarship and plans to attend Franklin and Marshall College to become a hospital pharmacist. His passion for the sciences, particularly chemistry, has already drawn him to become a volunteer pharmacy technician at Doris Ison Health Center.
Reidel Nabut came from Cuba six years ago seeking better opportunities. He is now creating opportunities for others. Nabut founded the Facebook page, Mathematics Is Everything, to promote mathematics around the world. With more than 14,000 subscribers, the page has made him realize the impact that technology has on the world. Nabut is a peer academic leader and tutors other students in chemistry and mathematics. He plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and would like to work for NASA to help create the perfect tool to better understand the universe and the role people play in it.
Joseph Martinez is on a pathway to a career in medicine. The Honors College student has published clinical research on Parkinson’s disease and been a peer leader, teaching other students about chemistry. At the InterAmeircan Campus, he is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, the Biological National Honor Society, the Chemistry Club and the Student Government Association. Martinez is also an activist with the Clinton Global Initiative Foundation. He plans to continue his education and become a neurosurgeon.
Gabriel Blanco-Colmenares can tap into both his left and right brain. The chemistry major has won multiple medals in math competitions, as well as praise for his drawings. Now, the 19-year-old has his sights set on becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon and assembling a group of doctors to provide medical assistance to impoverished people around the world. He’s applied to Georgetown, Duke, Cornell, and Johns Hopkins Universities, and other Ivy League schools. Blanco-Colmenares was a member of Phi Theta Kappa, STEM Club, SWER Club, and Dr. Miami Club while attending MDC.
Leslie Rodriguez’s first attempt at college was cut short by her parent’s divorce. In 2013, she had a baby girl with special needs, which awoke a deep passion to care for others. The single mother returned to MDC in 2014 and is now graduating with an associate degree. She plans to pursue a career as a neonatal nurse, ‘or one day possibly a surgeon,’ to help her child and others with similar needs. “My professors have given me so much support in instances when I was not able to attend class for medical reasons. They have provided me with so many resources to feed my hunger to learn. I have nothing but respect and deep admiration for these professors,” Rodriguez said.
Anabella Arria was one year away from completing dental school when she was forced to leave her native country of Venezuela due to political turmoil and teacher strikes at her school. She chose MDC because of the stellar reputation of its dental hygiene program. Arria is an officer with the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society, where members apply real-world, problem-solving skills by developing a project that contributes to the community as part of its Honors in Action Project. Arria was named to the 2017 All-Florida Academic Team, which recognizes outstanding students for their academic achievement, leadership and service to their communities.
At age 18, Juan Paredes joined the U.S. Air Force, where he spent four years in security forces and in the Middle East. He now serves in the Reserves and continues to have a “no man left behind” attitude with his fellow classmates. His instructors describe him as a team player with fellow sonographers in the clinic. He participated in the MDC Open House, the MDC Health Fair and gave his time to advise high school students about the sonography program. Paredes will receive an associate degree in diagnostic medical sonography and plans to become a physician’s assistant.
NORTH AND WEST CAMPUSES
North Campus political science major Krystal Lanier is a 2017 Newman Civic Fellow, a national distinction as one of the finest student leaders in the nation. Last fall, she served as a Campus Election Engagement Fellow, helping more than 1,000 students register to vote and helping to organize a major rally on Voter Registration Day. Lanier took on leadership roles in many student organizations, including Student Government Association, Phi Theta Kappa and the Political Science Club. She aspires to become a public policy analyst focusing on educational or healthcare policies. Lanier comes from a family of six with Honduran, African-American and Puerto Rican roots.
Yvens Duplessis hopes to one day conduct research for the World Health Organization and volunteer with the Peace Corps. The biology major was the recipient of the Omega Student Award Endowment, Trio Grant Award, Bank of America Scholarship, American Dream Scholarship, Scheffler Scholarship. He is the first in his family to graduate from Natural Formula college, while taking on the role of a father by financially supporting and helping to raise his siblings after his parents divorced. “I chose MDC because I wanted to begin my college career without financial burden,” Duplessis said.
Born in Venezuela and living in Miami with only his sister, Frank Quintero is driven to pursue his dream of studying law and international relations. His mother is ill in Venezuela. He is a recipient of the Mirta Penelas Scholarhip Endowment and a Miami Book Fair volunteer. Quintero has applied to Yale University’s Eli Whitney Students Program and Florida International University. “Miami Dade College gave me the tools to face it all. The world is an ocean of opportunities, ready to be conquered by MDC sharks,” he said.
Alexa Ovalles said MDC gave her “all the resources needed to succeed.” She plans to pursue a Bachelors of Arts in chemistry with a sub-concentration in biochemistry and a minor in psychology, perhaps leading to a future career in the health care industry. Ovalles is also a dancer since she was five years old. She volunteers at King Jesus International Ministry in her spare time.
Enrique Sepulveda, 22, never envisioned himself as a student, much less a student leader. When he first arrived at MDC, he was homeless and had poor grades. MDC embraced him and helped him achieve success. As Vice President of the Student Government Association, he represented MDC at the state’s and nation’s capital and met with dignitaries. This year, he is one of only six students nationally recognized as an Achieving the Dream Scholar and received a full paid scholarship from Educate Tomorrow to study abroad in Indonesia in the summer. Sepulveda resides in Camillus House. He is graduating with an associate in arts and hopes to attend Florida State University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science. His dream is to enact change and be a voice for those less fortunate.
Teresa Ricks, 19, chose a career in psychology because she enjoys helping others. She is graduating with an associate degree and headed to Nova University to continue her education. Born in Miami, staying close to home was important to the animal lover because it allowed her to continue her volunteer work the Good Hope Equestrian Center. The experience changed her life. Ricks learned how equine training helped mentally and physically-challenged individuals succeed. She hopes to become a recreational therapist and incorporate animals into therapy sessions.