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Honors College 2020-2021 Real Triumphs Graduates

Emily Castellanos Feature, Spotlight

A diverse group of men and women in background, nationality, interests and ambitions, these individuals are shining examples of what makes FIU students so special.

Apart from being Honors College graduates, these students show immense ingenuity, compassion, intelligence and courage that set them apart from their graduating class. Against great odds, they have shown what it means to be truly Real Triumphs.

Meet the Honors College 2020 – 2021 Real Triumphs Graduates:

Ann Barral

Ann Barral
Bachelor of Science in Economics
Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs

Ann Barral believes in the power of a well-rounded professional.

With her heart set on medical school, she enrolled at FIU as an economics major – a field that would allow her to understand numbers and data.

Ann also earned a spot on the university’s top-notch women’s swimming and diving team, which most recently won its seventh straight Conference USA Championship. She devoted countless hours to training, developed a deep bond with her teammates and coaches and was eventually elected co-captain of the team.

A student in the Honors College, she found a mentor in the college’s assistant dean, Pete Markowitz, and dove into numerous research opportunities.

Ann studied abroad in South Africa, working with patients and learning about infectious diseases from Dr. Aileen Marty, infectious disease specialist and professor at FIU’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. She also interned at Case Western Reserve University, where she studied sickle cell anemia and began researching its effects on malaria. In addition, she researched the effects of marijuana use and abuse on people with HIV at the College of Medicine’s immunology and nanotechnology lab at FIU.

In 2020, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics, and re-enrolled at FIU to earn the new Bachelor of Science degree in the subject – which only required several more classes to complete – and a minor in chemistry. She is currently interning at the U.S. Census Bureau.

After graduating with her second FIU degree, Ann will begin medical school at the Ross University School of Medicine in the Caribbean.

Her motivation to succeed: The support of her parents and FIU family.

By Gisella Valencia
Staff Writer
Division of External Relations, Strategic Communications and Marketing


Andy Bautista

Andy Bautista
Bachelor of Science Hospitality & Tourism Management
Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management

Andy Bautista’s dream had always been to play football while attending FIU, and then head to the NFL. He had no idea that his path would lead him to the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management – and seven attempts to see part of his dream come true.

As a high school senior, Andy applied to FIU. His football stats were great, but his grades were not. In fact, his application for admission to FIU was rejected seven times. But he didn’t let that stop him, and instead he reached out to FIU’s Director of University Admissions, who told him that he needed to complete developmental classes to be considered for admission.

Every day, for an entire year, Andy drove from Florida Keys College, where he was taking classes, to FIU for tutoring sessions in math and English. Then, in the summer of 2017, he was admitted to FIU under the Supported Transition to Excellence (STEP) summer program and made it as a walk-on to the FIU football team.  Although he was ineligible to play football the first year, he stayed on track and in year two, qualified for the team academically and athletically.

During his second year on the team, Andy found a lump on his chest that doctors eventually confirmed was cancer. The lump was removed, but in less than a month, the cancer returned. Andy made the decision that it was time to hang his helmet and walk away from football forever.

Giving up the sport he loved since he was a little boy, Andy left the team and continued to strive in the classroom. His path led him to apply to the Honors College in 2019. He changed his major to hospitality and tourism management.

Andy’s perseverance, tenacity and hard work has paid off. He made the Dean’s list every semester since he started at FIU and will graduate Cum Laude with a 3.6 GPA. He is the first in his family to receive a college degree and is going on two years cancer free. Starting this August, he will be attending graduate school at the University of Florida.

By Ivonne Yee-Amor
Sr. Account Manager – PR & Marketing
Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management


Lazaro Bosch

Lazaro Bosch
Bachelor of Science in Digital Communications and Media
College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts

Raised in a hurricane-impacted mobile home park about 10 minutes from FIU, Lazaro Yariel Bosch knew the odds were stacked against him – but his family was certain that he would be the first to attend and graduate from college.

While going to school full-time, Lazaro took on several jobs on campus to help provide for his family and care for his grandmother, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.

After learning about FIU in D.C. from fellow student ambassadors, Lazaro was set on landing a D.C. internship to develop his passion for science communications. However, having never stepped foot outside of Florida and not having the financial means to do so, he worried his passion would remain a dream.

But last fall, Lazaro was selected to intern in the Office of Communications at NASA headquarters, helping develop communication strategies for the Artemis Moon Mission. His internship was supported by the Make a Difference D.C. Scholarship Fund, through FIU in D.C.’s first virtual Fly-In Seminar, “D.C. and the Scholarship World.”

Lazaro spent his last semester interning in person for CRD Associates, a lobbying firm in D.C. focused on appropriation requests for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s Data Modernization initiative, where $500 million were allocated to the American Rescue Plan to provide real-time and forecasted data on COVID-19 and future pandemics.

After graduation, Lazaro will return to D.C. to work as a science communications and educational outreach intern for NASA Langley Research Center and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) developing educational content to get kids excited about STEM.

By Tatianna Basanta
Junior Account Manager
College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts


Natalia Del Valle-Agosto

Natalia Del Valle-Agosto
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
School of Integrated Science and Humanity College of Arts, Sciences & Education

In 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, damaging thousands of homes – including Natalia Del Valle-Agosto’s. Thanks to the FIUstrong program, which assists students impacted by disasters, Del Valle moved to FIU. Despite the overwhelming and abrupt change, she made the best of it, enrolled the following semester and found a new home as an FIU Panther.

Natalia instantly became an active member of the FIU community. She joined FIU’s Honors College, became a learning assistant for a psychology introductory course and a resident assistant at Everglades Hall, and joined the care staff at the FIU Wellness and Recreation Center and as well as the Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law fraternity.

She also participated in the Faculty Innovation for Student Success Showcase and even traveled to Washington, D.C. to represent FIU at the Fly-In Seminar, “The Future of Water and Coastal Economies.” In the midst of the global pandemic, Natalia returned to Puerto Rico to help care for immediate family – all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.

Natalia is graduating with her bachelor’s in psychology, a minor in philosophy and a certificate in music business. After graduating, she will be attending the University of Puerto Rico’s Law School to pursue a career in law.

By Emily Castellanos
Social Media Specialist
FIU Honors College


Patricia Garcia

Patricia Garcia
Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Engineering
College of Engineering and Computing

Patricia Garcia’s FIU journey began more than 1,000 miles away at a university in Washington, D.C. She had been awarded a prestigious scholarship to attend the institution, but something didn’t feel right. During her freshman orientation, Patricia made a life-changing decision. She withdrew from the program, enrolled at FIU and returned to the hometown she felt had molded her into the woman she had become.

Today, Patricia is graduating as part of the Honors College and is making FIU history as one of the first to graduate from the university’s new interdisciplinary engineering program. At FIU, she has built a network outside of her area of study and has designed a college experience that blends her passion for engineering, business, and design.

During summers, Patricia traded a swimsuit for a lab coat and travelled more than 1,000 miles to several full-time summer research positions at renowned institutions. From engineering 3D skeletal muscle tissue at a top tech institution to developing a piezoelectric sensor to detect pressure changes of the radial artery at another university, Patricia honed her skills and further developed a passion for engineering design. Last summer, she interned at Medtronic as a manufacturing engineer.

Recently, Patricia developed a startup concept that focuses on creating more inclusive and sustainable college campuses. So far, her concept has raised more than $30,000 in seed funding from national pitch competitions and has received notable media coverage.

When not in the classroom, research lab or working on her entrepreneurial endeavors, Patricia mentors future generations of Miami STEM leaders. She is involved with TECHNOLOchicas, a national initiative of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), and the Televisa Foundation, which is dedicated to raising awareness among young Latinas about careers in technology. Patricia also coordinates interactive tech workshops for young Latinas attending local Title 1 schools in underprivileged areas of Miami.

Patricia is now deciding whether to take a job with Microsoft or head to graduate school after accepting the prestigious GEM Fellowship.

By Elizabeth Caladilla
Director, Marketing and Communications
College of Engineering and Computing


Rahel Geretsadik Geremikael

Rahel Geretsadik Geremikael
Bachelor of Arts, International Relations
Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs

As a young girl, Rahel Geretsadik Geremikael fled religious persecution and war in the Eastern African country of Eritrea, walking with her family and dozens of others across the Sinai desert into Israel. The family survived incredible hardship – Rahel, only 12 at the time, carried her little sister on her back – but they found safety in Tel Aviv.

A natural talent for running let her to join a track and field team for refugees, the Alley Runners, where she excelled, winning many competitions and even qualifying for the 2014 Olympics. At 15, local media dubbed her the “fastest girl in Israel” but her immigrations status barred her from representing her adopted country at any international events.

Rahel continued to train and eventually earned a full scholarship for track and field to FIU. Though she spoke only limited English when she arrived, she quickly learned the language, made many friends and was accepted into the Honors College.

In 2018, she won a trip to Washington, D.C. through the Global Learning Transformation Contest, penning an essay about her personal journey. With a degree in international relations, she plans to pursue her master’s in psychology so she can help others like herself fulfill their dreams. She is grateful to FIU for giving her a chance – and her parents for their determination and sacrifice to give her family a better life.

By Amy Ellis
Communications Manager
Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs


Caldwell Harris

Caldwell Harris
BBA, International Business and Marketing
College of Business

With high expectations from her Liberian-born father and Detroit native mother, Caldwell Harris chose the highly ranked international business program at FIU with great anticipation.

Yet she started her freshman year with a heavy heart. Her younger brother, her lifelong partner in seeking excellence, died by suicide a month before she arrived in Miami. Depression and anxiety marked much of her first year. Yet through it all, she looked to her brother’s memory to achieve the big goals they once created together.

By her sophomore year, Caldwell made a turnaround at FIU. She leaned on her support system, including close friends, amazing colleagues and faculty mentors, and strived to continue the academic excellence she achieved in high school. That year, she was hired as marketing assistant at the Frost Art Museum. When she wasn’t in class, studying or working, she was focused on her true passion, fashion.

Yet a second tragedy awaited Harris. During summer 2019, her Dad’s health began to decline, and he passed away that December. Although she struggled emotionally, Harris’ resilience helped her cope with the loss of her mentor and champion. By the spring ’20 semester, she earned an intern position at New York Fashion Week, and was also hired as assistant brand strategist at the luxury, black-owned footwear label, Keeyahri. In addition, she maintained a stellar academic record and ongoing work at the Frost Art Museum, where she was a nominee for Student Employee of the Year.

After graduating with a double major in international business and marketing, Harris will begin a digital marketing and branding internship with the global luxury footwear brand Stuart Weitzman (NYC).

While she’s passionate about design, Harris envisions her career on the legal or business side of the fashion industry and hopes to continue to inspire others to rise about their challenges.

By Ellen Forman
Associate Director, Communications
College of Business


Sakeli Kennedy

Sakeli Kennedy
Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences: Quantifying Biology in the Classroom
Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry
College of Arts, Sciences & Education

Sakeli Kennedy is on a mission to help others. After fitting two bachelor’s degrees and three majors into her four years at FIU, she is already on her way to another milestone: earning a medical degree.

Sakeli attended primary school in Jamaica with friends form all over the world and spent her high school years in St. Petersburg, Florida, absorbing advanced science lessons. For Sakeli, FIU was a place to keep practicing science as part of a diverse community. She enrolled in the intensive Quantifying Biology in the Classroom program, then joined the Honors College so she could take extra classes. She also became a tutor, a tole she continues into upper-level courses and a second degree in chemistry.

Research and service took Sakeli around the Americas. She examined bleached corals in Miami, parsed DNA code to identify disease markers in Minnesota, and went on Alternative Breaks trips to treat sick sea turtles in Costa Rica and helped residents of remote communities in Peru. A first-generation university student, Sakeli repaid her parents’ belief in her, helping her mother earn her GED.

Sakeli continues her studies in St. George’s University in Grenada, where she is working to introduce an Alternative Breaks program – this summer, she’s leading a medical service trip to Ghana. She wants to continue helping the underserved and to give pre-med students the kind of opportunities she’s had.

By Nate Rabner
Content Strategist
College of Arts, Sciences & Education


Sabrina Pecorelli

Sabrina Pecorelli
Bachelor of Arts International Relations and Political Science
Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs

Sabrina Pecorelli is truly living her life as an international citizen. Born in Italy, she grew up in places like Maldives and Zanzibar while her father pursued a career in hospitality management. Locally, as a dynamic and vibrant young leader, she served as president of UN Women at FIU, where she hosted many virtual presentations on women’s issues and gender equality, including a series about influential women in male-dominated professions.

Her enterprising internships included serving as a team leader for Latin America for the U.S. State Department and researching violence against Guatemala’s environmental defenders. In Spring 2020, she was tasked with responding to constituent concerns on local and national issues while interning for them U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala. To pursue her work for women’s rights, she completed the Millennium Fellowship, a program that only accepts 6 percent of its more than 15,000 applicants worldwide. Through her work, she strived to educate and empower women to increase female political participation at local and national levels.

With fluency in four languages, Sabrina plans to take two gap years to travel and gain even more international experience. She is a recipient of the prestigious Critical Language Study Scholarship from the State Department and plans to study Arabic on her way to becoming a Foreign Service Officer serving in the Middle East. She plans to apply to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., as a final step in attaining her goals.

By Alexandra Bassil
Account Manager
Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs


Susana Rondon

Susana Rondon
Bachelor of Science in Anthropology/Sociology
Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs
Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies
College of Arts, Sciences & Education

Susana Rondon believes she was born to serve.

Before her birth, doctors encouraged her parents – and particularly her mother, a cancer survivor – to end the high-risk pregnancy. They told them Susana would have Down Syndrome and a slew of other health conditions. Inspired by her Christian faith, Susana’s mother decided to give her baby a chance at life. Susana was born completely healthy, and her mother was also unharmed.

Susana said that is she’s a miracle, it’s time for her to pay it forward. This guides her every action – including at FIU.

Through the Honors College and Alternative Breaks, Susana volunteered as a site leader during a mission trip to Suriname, where she learned about the country’s coastal degradation, planted mangroves to ameliorate the situation and helped repair a community center for disabled children. She also studied abroad in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, where she taught English to educators and helped raise funds for a project providing clean drinking water to low-income communities.

Susana also became a leader in the student organization Students Taking Initiative Through Collaboration in Honors (STITCH), which organizes seminars and networking and volunteer opportunities for pre-med students.

In 2018, she began working full-time as the Honors College’s office associate and juggles her job with online or evening classes. She is a proud first-generation college student.

After graduating, she plans to pursue a master’s in environmental studies at FIU and bring to fruition several business ideas.

She says all her success is ultimately her mom’s success – and she dedicated all her hard work to her mom.

By Gisela Valencia
Staff Writer
Division of External Relations, Strategic Communications and Marketing


Milagros Yanes

Milagros Yanes
Bachelor of Arts in Political Science
Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs

Born in Cuba at 25 weeks, weighing only 1 pound, 7 ounces, Milagros has lived with visual and hearing impairments her entire life. When she arrived in the United States at 14, Milagros embraced a new language and culture despite her disability, proving to everyone that she would let nothing stand in the way of achieving her American dream.

After a difficult time in high school, where she had to acclimate to a new life with her disability, her hard work and the supports of family and professors enables Milagros to graduate with a 3.4 GPA. She then enrolled at Miami Dade College, where she graduated with higher honors and earned an Associate of Arts in Pre-Law and an Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies.

FIU welcomed Milagros in the Fall of 2017, when she began to pursue her bachelor’s in political science. Among her many achievements, Milagros received several leadership awards, was an active member of multiple honor societies and held internships in the office of former U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, the Consulate General of Spain, and an immigration law firm.

Milagros is graduating Summa Cum Lade from FIU’s School of International & Public Affairs with a 4.0 GPA. She is also part of the FIU Honors College and the Disability Resource Center and will be recognized as an FIU Global Learning Medallion graduate.

Continuing to pursue her passion for immigration law, Milagros plans to help others achieve their American dream and fight for immigrant rights as a paralegal at a law firm. In the future, she plans to attend law school.

By Gabriela Aguirrechu
Media Relations Representative
Office of External Relations, Strategic Communications and Marketing