Jesus Vina Moreno overcame challenges to achieve success as a Gaston College SPARC Scholar

Jesus Vina Moreno is a highly accomplished participant in the College’s SPARC program, which gives students the opportunity for intensive hands-on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, instruction and laboratory experiences. He will graduate from Gaston College in May 2020 with a 4.0 GPA, an Associate in Science degree and a Diploma in Biotechnology. Achievements in his personal life make his SPARC success even more remarkable.Student posing in front of campus building

Since he was a child in the Dominican Republic, Moreno wanted to be a physician. He was inspired by his mother, who is a doctor, and by the medical care and attention that saved his life after he was infected with the dengue virus at the age of 12. The virus put him in coma for several days. “When I woke up,” he said, “I had tubes in my mouth, hands, and feet, and even opening my eyes was a challenge. All I wanted was to see my mother one last time and say goodbye because I thought that I was dying.”

Although many of Moreno’s doctors doubted that he would survive, one doctor, along with Moreno’s mother, kept fighting and tried another treatment that ultimately saved his life. Moreno had to learn to walk and talk again, but he faced those challenges with determination.

When Moreno was 17, his mother and sister moved to the United States while he stayed in the Dominican Republic to finish high school. He spoke almost no English when he joined them in the U.S. He tried to take classes, but the language barrier was daunting, and he dropped out. His dream of being a physician, however, was still alive.

Moreno spent the next several months studying English, immersing himself in the culture, and working to be able to help support his sister and his mother, who could not practice medicine in the U.S. By the fall of 2017, he felt more a bit more comfortable with the language and his ability to succeed and, although he was still working, he enrolled in Gaston College.

“My experience at Gaston College has been excellent since day one,” said Moreno. “I felt that I was supported and that my professors and the staff genuinely cared about my success and well-being. For example, the Financial Aid Office went out of their way to help me, and my Developmental Reading and English professor took me from not even knowing what the MLA format for writing papers was and not being familiar with English punctuation to being a relatively proficient writer.”

Although, at first, he had trouble understanding everything his teachers were saying and the concepts that were being conveyed, Moreno persisted and he excelled in all his classes, including rigorous calculus, genetics, and organic chemistry courses.

He was accepted into the SPARC program in 2018 and delved into research projects, where he flourished. He has been involved in faculty-mentored undergraduate research on antibiotic resistance in the Catawba River Basin, as well as a separate project on the antibiotic properties of Eugenol, a natural organic compound found in cloves, cinnamon, and bay leaves.

“The SPARC program is something out of this world,” Moreno said. “I believe that the person and student I am and many of the things I have accomplished have been influenced by my participation in the program. The most helpful opportunity the program offers is mentoring. My mentor, Dr. Virginie Maggiotti, takes time out of her work schedule and even on days off to help me with volunteering opportunities, scholarship and college applications, and research projects, among other things. I am also thankful for being a SPARC Scholar because the financial help the program provides enabled me to quit my job and focus totally on my classes and research.”

Dr. Maggiotti, Moreno’s mentor and chemistry instructor, said, “Jesus is the proof that mentoring can really make a difference and I am glad I could help him grow and flourish here at Gaston College and after transfer. I know he will achieve great things and I can’t wait to see him graduate from med school.”

In November 2019, Moreno presented his research at the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research Conference and was invited to present the research at the National Council for Undergraduate Research’s annual event in Montana and at American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Microbe in Chicago, two highly competitive national conferences. Both conferences unfortunately were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Moreno remains committed to his project and is working from home on DNA analysis.

Moreno is a semi-finalist for the highly selective and prestigious Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, and he is also a finalist for the Goodnight Scholarship from North Carolina State University. The recipients of each scholarship will be announced in late April or early May.

The scholarship results will determine whether Moreno will attend UNC Chapel Hill or NC State to finish his Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in biology with a minor in psychology. He intends to apply to medical school when he completes his undergraduate studies.

“My ultimate career goal is to help others and be useful,” said Moreno. “The way I want to achieve my goal is not set in stone yet. I know that I have always wanted to be a doctor, but the exact field of medicine I want to pursue in not yet defined. It will depend on what I enjoy the most during medical school. Lately I have leaned toward being a neurologist with a specialty in muscular disorders. This is because I have a rare and not well understood muscular disorder, myotonia congenita, and I think this is a field where I can be useful and, through research, I may be able to discover ways I can treat or even cure those with similar disorders.”

In reflecting back on his educational journey at Gaston College, Moreno said, “My experiences at Gaston College mean a lot to me because now I truly believe that with good work and the help and support of those who genuinely desire my success, I can accomplish anything. I only hope that one day my teachers and the Gaston College staff can proudly say that I was one of their students and that I can give back the support they gave me.”

About the Gaston College SPARC Program

The SPARC program at Gaston College can help put students who want to pursue a Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics major, or STEM, education on the path to success. SPARC students graduate from Gaston College with an Associate of Science degree and are prepared to successfully pursue a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university. Students are part of a learning community with special scholarship opportunities and are able to work closely with faculty members and other SPARC participants.

SPARC students benefit from:

  • Interactive hands-on STEM classes
  • Scholarships of up to $6,000 per year that are based on financial need and academic merit. (Students who do not qualify for a scholarship are still able to participate in SPARC.)
  • Personalized support services, such as special advising, mentoring, and tutoring
  • Internships
  • Research experiences
  • Opportunities to interact with industry professionalsFor more information about the SPARC program, visit Gaston College SPARC..
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