Meet the Grad: Anastasia Duenas, Promoting Equity in Healthcare Research  

May 11, 2022

Every student at NOVA brings a different story and a different perspective on student success and achievement. Commencement brings to life their accomplishments.

Anastasia Duenas

Anastasia Duenas, who is already an accomplished researcher, has presented at honors symposia and has participated in the NASA Community College Scholars program, aims to make impactful change in the field of medical research. She has written articles on multi-cancer early detection testing, and she works hard to bring to light health disparities within communities. Duenas returns to NOVA after an initial start in 2015. At that time, she became critical ill and had to drop out. Now she’s back and going strong. She currently serves as president of both the NOVA Alexandria Honors Club and the Alexandria chapter of Phi Theta Kappa.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background:

I am transplant from the D.C. area and primarily grew up in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. I had previously spent some time in Vancouver, Canada as well.

I moved to the Northern Virginia area around 2010 and had initial aspirations to get into politics. I wanted to help create more equity in the field of civil rights. I grew up in a small town and noticed a lot of inequity in finance and race. I wanted to make a better impact in those communities to ensure people don’t face discrimination.

I like doing a lot of extracurricular activities such as serving as the president of the Alexandria Honors club and Alexandria PTK chapter.

In my spare time, I like playing the piano and I love volunteering in my community. I served as an ESL tutor for the last couple of years. I also love exploring the D.C. area.

What brought you to NOVA?

I first heard of NOVA based off word of mouth. I knew a lot of students who started their first two years at NOVA and then transferred to their bachelors’ programs at other schools. Those students told me that the two years they had done at NOVA were very influential in helping them achieve their goals.

I initially started at NOVA in 2015. However, in 2016, I became critically ill and had to pause my studies. Once I got better, I knew I wanted to restart my career at NOVA.

I then got into medical research, participated in the Honors Symposium and talked about health disparity. I participated in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars’ Program. I then wrote a research article on multi-cancer early detection testing.

What are you studying or plan to study at NOVA?

I am studying both liberal arts and science at NOVA. I created my own sub study in Spanish and biochemistry.

After NOVA, I want to get into biochemistry and biomedical research as well as public health. I want to pursue a combined a MD-PhD program and after obtaining those degrees, I want to become a physician researcher to develop serological diagnostic testing. I want to be a part of the field which researches trace amounts of blood so that testing for different health conditions could work.

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA; i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met:

The faculty and classmates here at NOVA are supportive and create such a conducive learning environment. They have made my experience at NOVA very impactful. It has been transformative in my growth as a student.

Several professors have been very influential in my life and in my career goal. Dr. Lorente helped guide me to find my passion and to pursue a field in public health. Professor Vanderson, a professor of chemistry, helped me foster a passion for chemistry. And then Dr. Horoszewski, who is also a chemistry professor, always had open office hours and helped me go over a lot of concepts I had questions about. Further, Professor Park and Maryam, who was a tutor at the Manassas Campus, both helped me get over my mathphobia.

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring?

I have applied to many different schools to continue my studies, including University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Swarthmore College, Brown and Yale.

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA?

I would tell students to be open minded and take risks. NOVA is a great place to foster goals you want to pursue. I would also tell them to talk with their professors during office hours or fellow colleagues, as those conversations would open opportunities that they may never have considered before.

Also, I would say to cherish every moment that you’re at NOVA. Two years goes by so quickly, so live in the moment and take chances.

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