Robert William Fernandez is from Lima, Peru and when he was 4 years old, his family had to make the decision of moving to the US searching for the American dream. His mom worked in a factory and his dad worked at a fast-food restaurant. During high school, he was not encouraged to pursue biology classes and did not receive mentorship from his teachers. This led him to want to pursue a Business degree to help find financial stability for a better future for his family. However, he encountered difficulties when applying to 4-year colleges because of his immigration status, as an undocumented immigrant. When applying to colleges, the limitations of his undocumented status took him by surprise as he learned what it meant to be an undocumented immigrant, which means he was preventing from applying to NJ state colleges due to an absence of a social security number or he had to pay out-of-state tuition although he grew up in NJ. For this reason, he attended a 2-year community college and earned his Associate Degree in Business Administration from Union County College. During his last year at Union County College, Robert was inspired to pursue biology when he took his first introductory biology class with his biology professor Dr. Felton. He went on to pursue an independent study project with Dr. Felton and the mentorship he received from her greatly influenced him and it showed him that he can pursue a STEM career. He decided to go out of state to pursue his dreams. He began attending Queens College in New York at the age of 19. Since he was could not qualify for financial aid, he had to learn how to economize figuring out ways to thrive on an extremely limited income. He did research at a laboratory at Queens College, but he left as it wasn’t beneficial in terms of mentorship. In order to pursue his studies, Robert worked for a couple of months at a deli to save up money and with the support of his mother, he enrolled at York College of the City University of New York. He pursued a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology and worked in the lab of Dr. Simon, where his research focused on the influence of dopamine in the social behavior of fruit flies. This experience furthered inspired him that he can become a scientist. He received lots of support from his professors in the biology and physics department at York College. He even got invited to Brown University to find out more about the doctoral program in biology over there. Again, Robert demonstrated his capabilities and got offered a research summer internship at Princeton University studying the embryogenesis of the fruit fly.
After obtaining his bachelors, he applied to a several doctoral programs in biology and decided to pursue his Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University. Before starting at Yale, Robert’s immigration status took a 180-degree turn. After 20 years of living in the US, he finally obtained his green card which motivated him more to continue on his studies. Unfortunately, he had a rough path during his first year due to multiple reasons such as being the only Latino in the program, having difficulties in his classes and medical problems. However, he was able to overcome these issues and keep moving forward with his Ph.D. After obtaining his Ph.D., Robert plans to go back to New York and help students the same way he was aided. Being this the primary reason why he and a couple of friends founded Científico Latino, a website that gathers all sorts of resources to apply for scholarships and fellowships for undergraduate and graduate students.
Robert comes from a very humble background and he has worked hard to get where he is at now and whoever listens to his story, should feel inspired by him. He never had it easy, but he was able to overcome any obstacle that once prevented him from pursuing his dreams. Also, he acknowledges that not many students are lucky enough to get help or even recommended to opportunities which is why Científico Latino exists. It truly helps to have all opportunities and resources so accessible. Thank you so much Robert for sharing your Caminos en Ciencia!