Valeria Reyes-Ruiz is a first-generation student studying microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania. She began her PhD in 2014 when she moved from Puerto Rico to Philadelphia after completing her Bachelor of Science in microbiology at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) at Humacao. Similarly, we both come from the humble town of San Lorenzo and enjoy microbiology. Coming from a rural home and dealing with limited opportunities, her journey inspires me to continue my path towards PhD. Valeria currently works at Dr. Sunny Shin’s lab researching Salmonella and Legionella. Her fascination for microorganisms stemmed from curiosity and desire to find answers to health problems. She was puzzled by microbes’ ability to have drastic effects on their host’s health despite their size. Now, her research allows her to obtain answers to scientific questions related to host-pathogen interactions.
Valeria aspires to be an example for people like her to pursue graduate studies. She strongly believes in the students on the island and their abilities regardless of the lack of resources. As a student at the UPR - Río Piedras, I agree and also wish to increase stem representation in my field. She hopes to become a principal investigator, influenced by her own mentors that showed her the value of teaching and providing science and leadership opportunities. As any Boricua or Latinx, she faces the challenge of being away from her family, which are her main support. As a member of the diaspora, she struggles with the uncertainty of returning. However, she one day wishes to give high quality science opportunities to students in Puerto Rico. Finally, her advice is to have self-confidence and ask for help when you need them. She emphasizes the importance of having a network to connect, collaborate, and obtain future opportunities. As a senior, I appreciate these words of wisdom in my path to graduate school.