On the Path to Serving Others, a Student Finds Support HerselfAug 12, 2021
Vanessa Hernandez’s interest in medicine dates back to childhood, when her family had to make frequent visits to the children’s hospital. “My younger sister—she’s better now, but she used to have a lot of issues,” Vanessa said. She remembers the care and comfort her family received from medical professionals. She also remembers the support that she herself was able to provide: “I always liked being there for her, in the hospital. I also translated for my parents because they didn’t speak English.”
Today, Vanessa is working toward a career as a surgeon. She’s entering her sophomore year at CU Denver, pursuing a major in biology and a minor in health humanities. She’s also a recipient of the Georgia E. Lesh-Laurie Scholarship, which helped confirm that she’s on the right path—a path she’s forging herself as a first-generation student. “I am truly grateful for this scholarship because it will allow me to follow my dream of being the first person in my family to attend college and eventually medical school,” Vanessa said. “It also boosted my confidence and helped my family believe in me.”
As Vanessa reflects on her freshman year, confidence is a recurring theme. “I’m a first-gen student, so we’re used to doing things on our own,” she said. In some ways, this strategy serves her well as she navigates a new environment. At the same time, it can cause her to turn inward, relying mostly on herself. As her confidence grew over the past year, Vanessa turned outward and sought support from her professors and peers: “I started going to office hours and group tutoring. That really helped.”
It didn’t take long for Vanessa to find her voice, even in a virtual world. During one of her online classes last winter, a fellow student mentioned his work as an EMT. Without hesitation, Vanessa messaged him to ask what program he was in. Within a few weeks, she was enrolled in the same program—and she’s now on track to finish her EMT training this summer. “I thought it would be a nice way to advance my career,” Vanessa said. She noted that it wouldn’t have been possible without her scholarship: “Being able to work only on the weekends, I was able to fit in the EMT program.”
When asked about her advice for other students, Vanessa speaks from experience: “Take advantage of your resources. They’re there for a reason. Step out of your comfort zone.” It’s advice Vanessa plans to follow more herself. “I’m looking forward to being in-person so I can start meeting one-on-one with my teachers and getting in some clubs,” she said. Vanessa also plans to get back into the hospital, shadowing medical professionals and exploring new sides of her future career.