When Laura Puentes transferred to the University of Central Florida from Valencia College two years ago, she never dreamed she would one day be accepted into Oxford, one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
As one of the 10 State University System students in Florida selected to receive a Frost Scholarship, Puentes will be awarded full funding to attain her Master of Pharmacology degree at the university in England. The program is supported by the Phillip and Patricia Frost Philanthropic Foundation.
Puentes will graduate this summer at UCF with a Bachelor of Biotechnology, and said she hopes to continue pharmaceutical research that one day will have global impact. She said her ultimate goal is to work in the biotech industry and develop biological therapeutics that can specifically target diseased tissue or tumors without affecting healthy organs. After Oxford, Puentes plans to attend the pharmacology Ph.D. program at the University of Pennsylvania, where she has already been accepted.
Puentes was born in Bogota, Colombia, and was reared in Mount Dora. As a first-generation college student, she said she took advantage of various resources available, such as attending the Summer Research Academy sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Research and becoming involved in Multicultural Academic and Support Services. She also was selected to become a McNair Scholar by the McNair Scholars Program, was encouraged to apply for summer research opportunities and was selected to participate in the Leadership Alliance internship at Brown University.
After returning to UCF with research experience and a clear focus, Puentes began to conduct research on Alzheimer’s disease under the mentorship of Dr. Suren Tatulian. As a result of her academic achievements, Puentes was selected for the National Science Foundation’s Young Entrepreneur and Scholar program at UCF, which provided her with funding to conduct research.
Puentes credits the McNair Scholars Program for presenting her with opportunities to grow as a student and build her confidence.
In addition to being accepted at Oxford, she was accepted to other highly rated Ph.D. programs that offered funding packages.
Her advice to other transfer and first-generation college students is to seek out resources before or as soon as they step onto the UCF campus and get involved in opportunities that will have a direct positive impact on their future goals.
“Through the McNair Scholars Program and with the immense guidance of everyone in it, I was able to not only set out a plan that would eventually lead me to graduate school,” she said, “I was also able to learn something truly unique about myself: to not be afraid to dream big.”
The UCF McNair Scholars Program, coordinated by Academic Advancement Programs, assists participants in gaining admission to graduate programs leading to a doctorate. McNair is funded by the U.S. Department of Education through its Office of Federal TRiO Programs.