JKCF Semifinalist Laurie Jimenez Earns While She Learns

May 5, 2023

After leaving her childhood community behind, Laurie found empowerment through her pursuit of higher education. This spring, she will graduate with her second degree from NOVA and proudly recalls her community college experience as “lifechanging.” Now a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship semifinalist, Laurie looks to the future for her next academic advancement.

Laurie Jimenez

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I am a first-generation American and a first-generation college student. I was raised in poverty with my two older sisters by a single immigrant mother. Witnessing her struggle to support our family taught me my earliest lessons in perseverance and hope.

As a child, I was always a curious learner, and I enjoyed the process of learning and improving. I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, and when I was fifteen years old, I started to ask myself questions about my future and what I wanted for myself. My older sisters had decided to not attend college and, instead, immersed themselves completely in service to the church. I felt that the values and expectations of the religion clashed with who I wanted to be. Furthermore, I did not see anyone living the life that I wanted for myself. I knew that by staying, I would never escape the poverty cycle that pervaded my family history, nor get the chance to reach my full potential. At 18 years old, I decided to attend college and exited the church. Consequently, I was an outcast to my family and community.

My decision allowed me to pursue my interests and explore my intellectual curiosity freely over the years. As a result, I have grown so much in my life. My experiences molded my worldview, helped me identify my passions, and led me to return to school to pursue a career in medicine. I now live in Arlington and work as a dental hygienist. When I’m not working or doing homework, I enjoy reading, writing, running and playing tennis.

What brought you to NOVA?
I first attended NOVA after discovering its dental hygiene program. I started working as a dental assistant when I was fifteen years old. The career appealed to me, since I enjoyed working with patients and I felt an associate degree was accessible. After completing one year of pre-requisite courses, I applied and was accepted into the program and graduated in 2017. I returned to NOVA in 2020 with my sights set on completing another associate degree in science, so I may transfer to a four-year university and complete my bachelor’s degree. I chose to return to NOVA because of its high-quality education, affordability and flexible hours for working students.

What are you studying or what did you study at NOVA? How does it feel to graduate?
During my first time at NOVA, I was studying for the Dental Hygiene A.A.S. Because it was an academic program that required admission, it was very rigorous and challenging. The support, training and experiences I had helped me become a strong healthcare professional. At graduation, I earned the Golden Scaler award through a unanimous decision by my instructors, which is recognized as the most prestigious award available to a sole dental hygiene student every year.

I recently completed my second associate degree in science. I feel the material is similar, yet more challenging compared to the dental hygiene courses I took, but still aligned with my interests. I am enjoying the process of learning and challenging myself, because I know it will lead me to the destination I desire. I planned to major in neuroscience upon transferring, but after discovering my fascination with genetics, I may switch to molecular and cellular biology.

Tell us about your experience at NOVA, i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met.
My experiences at NOVA have changed my life. As a youth, NOVA laid the foundation for my career in dental hygiene, which helped me reach financial stability. NOVA has made it possible for me to be the first in my family to attend college and, through my education, I can aspire to achieve more in life and make a bigger impact on society.

My return to NOVA in 2020 led me to meet several professors who believed in me and provided a nurturing environment during the last two years. Dr. Fancher-Ruiz helped me learn about and access resources that were critical to my journey. Dr. Hemchand Gossai reviewed pages of my application essays and helped me find my voice while writing my story. Professor Christopher Gros saw my ability to write and encouraged me to develop my writing ability. Dr. David Fernandez fostered my fascination for lab research, cell biology and genetics.

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA?
I would encourage students to attend NOVA to gain experience in a college setting. Take advantage of the resources available through its expansive system and do it in an affordable way. I returned to NOVA as an adult with the goal of attending medical school. I have a friend, Kevin Baisden, who started at NOVA and is now studying at Yale Law School. I believe that starting at NOVA gives students advantages through their transfer and scholarship programs.

As a NOVA student, I was eligible to apply to a summer internship program with the National Institutes of Health and was accepted! This is an example of the opportunities available to only community college students that make you a competitive applicant for transfer and employment. I can’t recommend NOVA enough!

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring?
This summer, I am participating in an internship to do genomics research at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In the fall, I will be transferring to a four-year university. I have applied to Columbia, Yale, Princeton and Johns Hopkins. So far, I have been accepted at Columbia.

I want to immerse myself in research and explore my interests in creative writing, as well as tennis. I would also like to do research in France or Spain through a study abroad program during my undergraduate years. After my bachelor’s degree, I plan to apply to medical school and pursue a specialty in psychiatry. I am interested in becoming a physician-scientist to discover novel and accessible therapies for mental disorders.

Topics: featured article, scholarship and research, student success