This podcast covers the scientific journey of Gretchen Alicea, Cancer Biology PhD candidate at the University of Science (UScience). Born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, but raised in the town of Ponce, she went to high school at Liceo Ponceño and got her undergraduate degree from University of Puerto Rico at Ponce. After obtaining her Bachelor of Science, due to the lack of resources and opportunities she moved to Tampa, Florida and started working as a research assistant at the Moffitt Cancer Center. Then she moved to Philadelphia to her doctoral studies in the Cancer Biology Graduate Program jointly administered by the The Wistar Institute and UScience. At The Wistar Institute, she is conducting research on melanoma with Dr. Ashani Weeraratna. Her thesis project focused in understanding how aging change melanoma progression and therapeutic resistance. As a mother, she described how difficult was to raise her son away from all her family in Puerto Rico, however, her biggest motivation to continue her scientific training is her son.
Gretchen also speaks about the struggles her and her family had to endure after the catastrophic hurricane María had made landfall on Puerto Rico. After the hurricane passed, she was not able to communicate with her parents and she was very desperate. For this reason, she wanted to raise funds for Puerto Rico because she felt it was the only thing that she could do being away from her family. During the fundraising for Puerto Rico, she was able to hear from her parents, it was very emotional for her. It gave her the motivation needed to organize more fundraising activities to help Puerto Ricans in need. Her initiative received a lot of support from students from the Wistar Institute and from the University of Pennsylvania. A couple months later, she was able to visit her home island and see how it stood after hurricane Maria struck. She was happy to see that even after the catastrophic damage, the Puerto Rican people were happy.
Hearing Gretchen’s story moved me. We come from the same home town and it makes me happy to see people from Ponce leading lives of great success. It also makes me glad to see how she arduously worked to help the people from Puerto Rico. I witnessed how the hurricane wiped out the whole island. It was a terrifying experience for everyone who was here. However, seeing how our people remain happy and hopeful is an example of how resilient we are. I invite you all to listen to this story!