Congratulations Domingo Fortuna!
When Domingo Fortuna arrived at Brandeis University for his freshman year of college, he was one of just a few Hispanic students at the traditionally Jewish university. Domingo had grown up in the Dominican Republic and moved to New York City before 8th grade. His transition to New York had not been especially easy, but at least most of his friends at Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics were Hispanic too. Throughout high school he mostly spoke Spanish with his friends, family, and even his teachers. When he arrived at college he was suddenly surrounded by nothing but English and it was exhausting. He began to wonder if he had made a mistake going to a college so far from home with so few people who looked or spoke like him.
Although Domingo had a few moments of doubt, he is not the type of person to get easily discouraged. He soon figured out that even at a school like Brandeis he could find a community he loved. He started by taking Spanish classes, and then joining the school’s salsa club. Through the salsa club, Domingo improved his confidence by performing in front of thousands of people at cultural exhibits. One Spanish class turned into a second and then a third. His passion for the language eventually resulted in a second major in Hispanic Studies to supplement his pre-med track. To his surprise, he found a double major in Biology and Hispanic Studies complemented each other nicely, remarking, “It’s separate but at the same time it’s very relevant. In the pre-med classes you’re not going to learn about the treatment of immigrants, you’re not going to learn about the Bracero program, for instance. History like that affects communities today and it’s something you just don’t get from science.”
Without the Double Discovery Center or Freedom & Citizenship, I wouldn’t be in the place that I am right now. I wouldn’t have been able to attend Brandeis and I don’t know if I would be pursuing medicine at all.
Although Domingo loves Spanish, his true passion is medicine. Sadly, he was almost deterred from his dreams by the “make it or break it” mindset he faced from some of his peers. Domingo had been an A student in high school but the freshman chemistry class at Brandeis had an average grade of a C. There’s an attitude among pre-med students, he explains, that if you’re not doing well at something you just shouldn’t be doing it at all. Taking freshman chemistry led Domingo to doubt his own abilities and his decision to try such a difficult career path. Fortunately, Domingo’s experience with Freedom & Citizenship helped him stay on track. Without the Double Discovery Center or Freedom & Citizenship, Domingo asserts, “I wouldn’t be in the place that I am right now. I wouldn’t have been able to attend Brandeis and I don’t know if I would be pursuing medicine at all.”
Before DDC and F&C I didn’t know how to talk to a professor, how to be in a class, how to write a proper college essay. I didn’t know how much work it took to write a good paper. And then there’s how to socialize and adapt to a new environment, that’s what F&C gave me.
Domingo had joined the DDC at the encouragement of his friend Yeritza, and then applied to F&C because his counselors Karli and Verushka thought it could help improve his English. He had no idea how significant Freedom & Citizenship would be for him, not only in giving him lifelong friendships, but also in preparing him for college. When reflecting on the importance of his experience, Domingo explains, “Before DDC and F&C I didn’t know how to talk to a professor, how to be in a class, how to write a proper college essay. I didn’t know how much work it took to write a good paper. And then there’s how to socialize and adapt to a new environment, that’s what F&C gave me.” Because of Domingo’s F&C experiences, he realized he needed to reach out for help. After speaking with his academic advisors, he decided to take some time off from chemistry and focus on his other courses. Eventually, Domingo accepted that he needed to focus on what worked for him, instead of trying to match what other students were doing. Thinking back, he explains the lesson he learned: “someone else’s plan isn’t yours and not everyone has the same timeline. Believing they should all be the same, that’s just going to hinder your progress in college.” Once Domingo did what was right for him, he ended up coming back to Chemistry as a sophomore and successfully minoring in the subject.
When Domingo considers his last four years he hopes current students can learn from his experiences. He wants them to be aware of the many resources that can help them succeed, such as academic services, financial aid, and community living. Unfortunately, freshmen rarely know about these resources, “which is when you need them the most,” he explains. Domingo remembers one significant opportunity he missed out on because of this lack of information: “I wanted to be an EMT but there’s a $1,400 class for certification so I just didn’t pursue it. Only later did I find out from a friend that he paid for the class with a grant from financial aid, I wish I had known about that.” There’s more too, he explains, “extra academic services for tutoring, free books for your classes. I didn’t know about so many of these things until my sophomore year at least.”
After Domingo learned to take advantage of campus resources and followed his own path, he thrived in college. He became a head community advisor in the Brandeis dorms, where he was able to help underclassmen adjust to college life. Academically, Domingo excelled in his biology labs, where he created a mutation of a protein in the eye that causes cataracts and studied Huntington’s disease in insects and rats. For his last Spanish class he chose a big challenge for himself: transcribing and translating a novel written in 1743 from a digitized manuscript (one day we’ll all be able to read El Segundo Astro Del Mar, Santa Maria de Cervellón thanks to him).
After graduation, Domingo is excited to begin his job as research coordinator for the Diabetes Prevention Program at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. During his junior year summer, he was placed in an internship at Einstein through Health Career Connection, a nonprofit organization that aims to help underrepresented students pursue careers in medicine. Domingo was selected as the program coordinator of the Summer Undergraduate Mentorship Program, within the Hispanic Center of Excellence at Einstein. It was his supervisor from that summer internship who let him know about this new job opportunity. The Diabetes Prevention Program was looking for someone fluent in English and Spanish with a major in the sciences--he was the perfect fit! Soon he’ll start studying for the MCAT as next year he will be applying for medical schools.
I think taking that huge step made me who I am, a person who doesn’t like being too comfortable. When I venture into a new environment it makes me feel like I’m doing something important, something that matters.
When Domingo reflects on his college experience, he chuckles thinking about how scared he was: scared about paying for college, living away from home, and being far from his family. Now he encourages others to face their fears and challenge themselves too, as he explains, “I think taking that huge step made me who I am, a person who doesn’t like being too comfortable. When I venture into a new environment it makes me feel like I’m doing something important, something that matters.” We’re confident that with whatever Domingo pursues next, he will make sure it matters. Congratulations Domingo, Brandeis University class of 2020.