Dream big. Reach for the stars. You can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it.
These are words of encouragement we all share with our children. It’s a rosy, optimistic view on life because as we all know from experience, success is not guaranteed just because you want it.
These types of statements are only true when combined with hard work, determination and courage. With the strength of character and resolve, students today can, and do, accomplish anything they set out to do.
Case in point: Alan Cuevas Villagomez. The son of a farmworker and a custodian, Alan was raised in a marginalized community, like so many children and teens in Immokalee. Many lower-income students drop out of high school so they can earn a living to help support their families. Alan did the opposite, though, staying in school so he could someday support his family. He had big dreams.
The 2015 Immokalee High School graduate enrolled at Allegheny College, completing a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2019. He graduated entirely debt-free from the prestigious college in western Pennsylvania thanks to scholarships and grants, including a generous financial aid package made available through Guadalupe Center and its philanthropic partners. Finances, not academic ability, pose the biggest roadblock to higher education for lower-income students.
Earning a bachelor’s degree is a significant accomplishment in a community like Immokalee, where just 7.7% of adults have four-year degrees. However, earning a bachelor’s degree wasn’t Alan’s dream. He had bigger plans.
In 2019, he enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine. Now, four years later, he is realizing his dream – crossing the stage at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall to claim another credential – a Doctor of Medicine degree.
Dr. Alan Cuevas Villagomez’s next step is a four-year medical residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University and the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. More than a decade ago as a teenager in Guadalupe Center’s college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program, Alan mapped out an ambitious plan to become a physician. He took advantage of college and career readiness sessions, ACT and SAT test prep, mentorships, financial literacy seminars and scholarship opportunities provided through Guadalupe Center. In college, he continued to study hard, pursue internships to find his niche within medicine and accept leadership roles on campus, where he served as a health coach for underserved community members and was elected first vice president of the Minority Association of Pre-medical Students. He also earned a Biology Faculty Prize based on his outstanding performance inside the classroom.
Alan’s journey to achieve his dream seems like a storyline from a movie – a young man, raised in a marginalized community, sees education as his way out of manual intensive jobs without a ladder for growth. Instead, he envisions a life where education is his key to a lifetime of opportunity.
He’s not the first Guadalupe Center student to write this storyline. He’s actually the sixth Guadalupe Center alum to become a doctor, joining Dr. Elizabeth Midney-Martinez, Dr. Kristen Dimas, Dr. Amalio Montes, Dr. Rogelio Guzman and Dr. Ruby Mendez. Several have moved back to Southwest Florida and are practicing in rural or lower-income communities.
Alan won’t be the last doctor to come through Guadalupe Center, either. Nallely Segura, a 2023 Tutor Corps graduate, begins her journey to becoming a doctor this fall as a biology/pre-med major at The Ohio State University. Other graduates in the Class of 2023 will be majoring in mechanical or biomedical engineering, business, nursing, criminal justice, economics, psychology, aeronautical science, veterinary medicine, biochemistry, education, political science and more.
For these students, education will create a cycle of prosperity for their families that lasts generations to come. No dream is ever too big, and no challenge is ever too great.
– By Dawn Montecalvo, President and CEO of Guadalupe Center