Jose’s Story: Leading the Future as the First of Many
Leading the Future as the First of Many
By: Jose Acevedo
I grew up in a rural area in the Dominican Republic where there were not many doctors, let alone scientists. From a young age, I was interested in science. When I was a little boy I always wanted to do science experiments. I loved playing in the dirt. Due to the rural environment, there were not a lot of resources like video games for example. So I had to manage my interests by being creative.
I moved to New York City with my family when I was twelve years old. From there we lived in Washington Heights in northern Manhattan. Not long after moving to the city, my father passed away. So my mother became a single mom who had to care for me and my younger brother Simon. I admire my mom because it took a lot of work to care for us. She is a great and strong person who continues to inspire me. My mom gives us the best gift of all: emotional support. This support means the world to Simon and me. It drives us to do better, to have a future and to never give up.
One day I was bored so I Googled “science stuff to do” and I found the Urban Barcode Research Program run by the DNA Learning Center of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. I reached out and learned more about the program. So I applied and was excited when I was accepted. I had always wanted to do something in the science field, but I didn’t know what my options were. I did not know about science research until I joined the Urban Barcode Research Program. So this was my first time doing DNA science and Genome science. My interest in science grew from this program. It was such a profound experience that it is hard to put it in words.
My research project studied the beetle larvae’s guts or more specifically the yeasts or unicellular fungi inside their guts. We collected 11 beetles’ larvae and dissected them to analyze the stomach gut. We were able to determine the sequences of genes that were inside the beetles’ larvae guts. We took the DNA that we extracted and sent it to a lab. After we got the lab results, we sequenced this DNA and then uploaded it into a website database that had many sample sequences. Since this database had so many samples and not one of them matched our 11 DNA samples, we realized that our findings were possibly novel sequences of new species of yeast. Further research still needs to be done to confirm that these sequences belong to new species.
The most memorable experience was going to Inwood Hill Park to collect the beetle larvae. Even though I lived nearby, I had never visited this park before. I was starting to see the world around me in a different light.
It was an amazing experience because I was learning through the research process. I was learning how to write scientific reports, running lab tests, doing PCR and more. Me doing this? I could hardly believe it. As a little kid, I never imagined that I would be doing science research.
The research process was tough though. I learned that things do not always work out as planned. In science you have to improvise and make changes. It takes perseverance.
My mentor, Jhunior Morillo, supported me through this process. He taught me how to be precise, about lab safety and how to present my research and myself in the best light. I learned so much from this experience. I learned how to conduct scientific research and that’s not something everyone my age can say. To be able to say I got results out of my research is extraordinary.
As a young kid I thought I might grow up to be a taxi driver or an apartment superintendent or something that did not require a degree. Yet, now I am in college and achieving great things at a competitive level. I have a high GPA. I see myself as a scientist and as someone who could become a doctor. I can envision my future doing research while in medical school and I can see the day when I get my PhD.
I realized that science was an option for me when I was in the Urban Barcode Research Program by being surrounded by others who inspired me. They had this mindset of building others up. I saw others that were like me, who were doing science research and who were successful. I realized that this too can be me.
Being part of the NYC Science Research Mentoring Consortium means a lot to me. I get to learn a lot about networking and listening to other’s perspectives that may differ from my own. There are so many opportunities we get access to. Through the Consortium’s programs, we are able to gain experiences that give us a depth of understanding about the world around us.
I am the first of many in my family. I am the first person in my family to graduate high school. I am the first to go to college. I am a proud first generation college student. This is a big deal. It’s a huge achievement. This program gave me the foundation that I needed for my career and it has motivated me to pursue research.
Something else I am really proud of is being a role model to my little brother Simon who is a rising high school junior. I have been able to help him navigate this complex education system. I noticed that he was doing well in school, but he was still a bit lost. I knew he could really take his education to another level. When he saw me doing my research he asked me how he could get involved. So I coached him on applying to another program in the Consortium, the American Museum of Natural History’s Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP). He was accepted for this summer and he is so excited and happy about it! Now we are a family of scientists.
I am a rising sophomore at Lehman College. I have spent this summer working a number of jobs, one of which is interning in a hospital. I’m currently undecided about my college major. However, I know that I want to pursue pre-med and a career and academics in STEM. Some options I am considering are bio-chemistry or biology and I definitely plan to minor in computer science and public health. I know that I will continue to my education until I receive my PhD so I can achieve my dream of becoming a doctor. Having this foundation in STEM is important because it gives me the skills I need to succeed. Science is the only thing that gives me the feeling of being completely happy and whole.
Science is important. Unfortunately, there is a lot of ignorance in the world today. For example, there are people who do not believe in global warming. So being able to understand what is going on around you is important. If you blind yourself to the truth, then that’s a dangerous mentality. Without science, there is no world.
My message is for others to never give up and to always be determined. Do not let anyone tell you that you cannot achieve something because of your grades, your ethnicity or for any reason. Sometimes a person may think it is too late, but it is never too late to take action to pursue your dreams. Let your passion drive you. Listen to yourself. Believe in yourself.