Dean Espinosa with Real Triumph Grads

Honors College Fall 2021 Real Triumphs

lopezjc Feature, Spotlight

Each semester, FIU recognizes the efforts of a diverse group of students in background, nationality, interests and ambitions. These individuals showcase what makes our university so special. 

In addition to being Honors College graduates, these scholars have gone above and beyond to accomplish extraordinary things during their time at FIU. Through dedication and perseverance, these students have shown us what it means to be Real Triumphs. 

Meet the Honors College Fall 2021 Real Triumphs Graduates: 

Andrea Ramirez-Torres 
BS in Biochemistry, BA in Natural & Applied Sciences 
Undergraduate Certificate in Women’s & Gender Studies, College of Arts, Sciences & Education 

Andrea Ramirez Torres wants to give survivors of sexual violence validation and a voice through science.  

Although Andrea and her family survived the devastating impacts of Hurricane Maria, they had to leave their home in San Juan and move to New York. For a while, Andrea’s dream of going to college was on hold. Out-of-state tuition was too much of a financial burden. Just before all hope was lost, a friend mentioned a program called FIU Strong, which supported students impacted by the hurricane.   

Once admitted at FIU, Andrea ceased the opportunity. An Honors College student, she was given the prestigious Dean’s Research Award for the Advanced Research and Creativity in Honors program in FIU professor Bruce McCord’s lab, where she works on alternative methods of DNA identification for victims of sexual violence.    

Her research found that many victims of sexual violence are not willing to undergo the current practices of retrieving DNA samples after an assault. So, she’s developing a less-invasive technology to detect bacteria that transfers from the suspect to the victim. This innovative new method could become an effective alternative for identification.   

Andrea has presented her work at several academic conferences to industry and academic experts in forensic science. She’s also an ambassador for FIU’s Office of Social Justice & Inclusion, where she helps under-represented students involved in undergraduate research. An advocate for the prevention of sexual violence, Andrea is also active on campus and has worked as a campus organizer for “It’s On Us,” as well as on the planning committee for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.   

After graduation, Andrea wants to continue her studies and research, and is currently applying to graduate school.  

By Nathalie Medina  
Junior Account Manger  
College of Arts, Sciences & Education

Diego Cardenas 
B.A. in Natural and Applied Sciences 
School of Environment, Arts and Society, College of Arts, Sciences & Education  

When met with adversity, Diego Cardenas faces it with curiosity instead of fear. For Diego, this trait emerged at a young age, when he asked himself why he was underdeveloped compared to his friends. Determined to find answers, Diego finally learned what was happening with his body after several doctor’s visits, sparking his interest in the medical field.   

At FIU, Diego focused on his studies and serving his community. He has volunteered with Blue Missions, a clean water charity and non-profit dedicated to connecting rural communities to clean water, for more than five years. He was also a Shield America Now volunteer during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, where he built and delivered PPE to hospitals, clinics and healthcare facilities in need. In May 2021, Diego was selected as vice president of Once a Month Miami, a non-profit focused on helping homeless women.    

As an FIU Honors College student, Diego conducted undergraduate research under the guidance of FIU professor of psychology Nadja Schreiber Compo. He worked as a research assistant in Compo’s Investigative Interviewing Lab, which is focused on bias in investigative interviewing, to improve his scientific writing and data analysis skills.    

After graduation, Diego will prepare for the MCAT and continue working in the Investigative Interviewing Lab and at Baptist Hospital, where he assists the patient and surgical team. Diego believes mental health should be at the forefront of patient care and hopes to become a psychiatrist to one day end the stigma surrounding mental health.   

By Christine Calvo   
Junior Account Manager   
College of Arts, Sciences & Education

Gerald Torres 
Bachelor of Arts, International Relations 
Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs 

When Gerald Torres arrived at FIU, his hope was to graduate as quickly as possible and not worry about any extracurricular activities. Although his passion was international relations, his parents encouraged him to major in civil engineering. Gerald worked for a time as a facilitator for Panther Camp, where one of his campers convinced him to at least try an introduction to international relations course. By the end of that course, he made the decision to leave engineering and pursue his true passion in international relations.   

At the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs, Torres found a space to excel, joining the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy, enrolling in the Intelligence Fellowship Program and participating in the Diplomacy Lab in Washington, D.C. Working at the intersection of technology and international relations, Gerald focused on disinformation and misinformation occurring in elections throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Eventually, he joined the FIU-MITRE strategic partnership, where he had the opportunity to brief policymakers at the U.S. State Department, US Southern Command, USAID and congressional staffers on issues of cybersecurity and national security.   

Gerald was selected as FIU’s first Gilman-McCain scholarship recipient, a distinction that led him to help other students with a passion for international travel to receive the scholarship. Gerald currently represents FIU in DC as a Hamilton Scholar and is interning at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. After graduation, Gerald plans to pursue a career in D.C., possibly with the State Department, the intelligence community or a think tank, as well as continuing onto graduate school for his master’s in international relations.   

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

Jacqueline Mendez 
B.S. in Early Childhood Education 
School of Education and Human Development, College of Arts, Sciences & Education 

Jacqueline Mendez’s little brother came into her life by adoption. She noticed his speech was delayed for a two-year-old and worked with him to increase his verbal skills. Today, her brother is above average in his oral communications skills – and Jacqueline’s experience helping him sparked her passion for education and research.  

Although Jacqueline began college as a journalism major, she decided to pursue a B.S. in Early Childhood Education after seeing the transformation in her brother. As part of the Advanced Research and Creativity in Honors Program, Jacqueline worked with teaching and learning Professor Jacqueline Lynch on a research study about adult literacy, specifically focusing on adults in Miami-Dade County who are struggling with literacy but are trying to learn.   

The lack of research in the adult literacy field motivates her to continue with her studies. Jacqueline hopes the education field adopts a more holistic approach to learning and one that puts students and learners first. She plans to do her part by becoming a speech language pathologist and an advocate for students with disabilities.  

By Christine Calvo   
Junior Account Manager  
College of Arts, Sciences & Education

Morgan Fatowe
Bachelor’s in Biochemistry
School of Environment, Arts and Society, College of Arts, Sciences & Education  

At just 21 years old, Morgan Fatowe has already conducted groundbreaking research that’s been published in a top academic journal.  

Under the guidance of FIU chemistry Assistant Professor Natalia Soares Quinete, Morgan studied one of the most concerning groups of chemical contaminants — called PFAS — that  pose serious health risks to humans and wildlife. She found these toxic ‘forever chemicals’ in South Florida tap water, as well as one of Miami’s most precious resources, Biscayne Bay.   

To date, not much research has been done on the presence and distribution of PFAS in South Florida. That’s why Morgan’s research is crucial in laying the groundwork that can help inform and create regulations to eliminate or remove PFAS from the environment.   

Morgan has presented her research at several conferences, and as an FIU Honors College student, she’s received the prestigious Advanced Research and Creativity in Honors scholarship, which is only awarded to 10 students each year. Passionate about helping other students learn, Morgan was also a peer leader in FIU’s Peer Led Team Learning program.    

The journey hasn’t always been easy, though. During sophomore year, Morgan struggled with her mental health. There were days she couldn’t finish an assignment or even visit the lab.   

Morgan credits her success and perseverance to the support of her family, FIU mentors and friends — including Morgan’s best friend and fellow Real Triumphs Graduate Andrea Ramirez-Torres. Today, she is graduating with a 3.7 GPA.  

Morgan is currently applying to graduate schools and hopes to pave the way for more groundbreaking research about PFAS in our environment.   

By Angela Nicoletti  
Account Manager  
College of Arts, Sciences & Education 

Natalie Lamas 
B.S. in International Business and Marketing 
College of Business, Honors College 

Natalie Lamas likes to go above and beyond when it comes to achieving her dreams. At the age of five, Natalie was diagnosed with severe hearing loss but with the help of hearing aids and her lip-reading skills, she has excelled academically her entire life.   

Not only did Natalie overcome her own struggles with hearing impairment, but she has also worked to help others. At 17, she organized a fundraiser with classmates and raised $5,000 to provide hearing aids for children in Vietnam.  

Natalie was president of the Student Programming Council from March 2020 to April 2021, at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the difficulty and inability of reading lips via Zoom or through face masks, Natalie completed her bachelor’s degree in both International Business and Marketing, earning a 3.66 GPA. During the pandemic, she also organized events, including virtual concerts and physically distanced movie nights for students to have spaces away from the worries of COVID-19 and classes.  

For Natalie, being a Real Triumphs Graduate is a validation of her unstoppable drive and her dreams – both big and small. After graduation, she plans to attend New York University to earn her master’s degree in Public Relations and Corporate Communications.   

By Elise Gregg, Editorial Assistant, College of Business Department of Marketing and Communications 

Nicole Hatton 
Bachelor of Arts, International Relations and Political Science 
Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs 

After a 10-year hiatus from college, Nicole Hatton returned to FIU as a non-traditional student with a fulltime job in 2017. One or two courses in international relations helped her discover a passion for public service. With a double major in international relations and political science, she made the best of her time during the pandemic, joining a number of international organizations virtually, including Sigma Iota Rho Honor Society and the Model United Nations team, serving as an executive board member for both.   

Entering the Honors College in Fall 2020, Nicole was chosen as a Diplomacy Lab fellow, conducting research on narcotics trafficking in the Indo Pacific. She also worked as an outreach coordinator at the BC Project, an organization dedicated to establishing transitional shelters for the chronically homeless community in Miami, where she participated in community clean-ups, as well as food and book distributions.    

As a Hamilton Scholar with FIU in DC this fall, Nicole focused on the migration crisis in Central America and ways to combat misinformation and disinformation. She completed an internship with the U.S. Department of Commerce in the Office of the Secretary, honing her leadership skills while participating in discussions on both global and domestic issues. After graduating from FIU, Nicole plans to pursue a career as a foreign service officer.  

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

Tran “Trina” Nguyen 
Bachelor of Science in Health Services Administration 
Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences 
Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences & Bachelor of Arts in Applied and Natural Sciences
College of Arts, Sciences & Education 

As a first generation Vietnamese American, Trina Nguyen grew up in a family that saw education as a privilege. When Trina receives her three, hard-earned degrees from FIU Honors College, she will have lived up to her family’s expectations – and then some.   

Trina never viewed health care as a career path when she was in high school. She wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps, a photojournalist during the Vietnam War. That changed the summer before her first year at FIU when she volunteered for a local doctor. The experience spurred Trina’s interest in health professions and broadened her outlook into different academic fields.  

Trina overcame personal obstacles while maintaining Dean’s List every semester at FIU, the toughest being in 2019 when her father suffered a debilitating stroke. She changed her volunteering, tutoring, and class schedules to care for her father at home and take him to physical therapy. Using her time management skills, Trina was able to balance the stress and pressure put on her, and she used the lessons from this experience to pursue her bachelor’s in Health Services Administration.   

Trina is extremely appreciative of the sacrifices her parents made to give her the “American Dream” when they moved to Miami from Vietnam. To thank them, Trina is graduating with three degrees: one for her mother, one for her father, and one for herself.     

After graduation, Trina plans to get a job in hospital management while she studies for the MCAT and applies to medical schools. Her ultimate goal is to pull all her degrees together and become a dermatologist running her own practice.  

By Emily Winston   
Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences 

Beatrice Dalov
Bachelor of Arts in Music with a minor in Sacred Music
Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences 
College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts, Herbert and Nicole Wertheim School of Music and Performing Arts

Beatrice Dalov was the first of her family to be born in America, the child of Bulgarian immigrants who had escaped Communism. At the age of 10, her family returned to Bulgaria where her ailing father later died, forcing her mother to care for her and her siblings alone.  

Beatrice quickly learned Bulgarian, enriched herself in the culture she had never known and began her piano studies at the National High School for the Performing Arts while working to help support her family. After her family resettled in Florida, Beatrice was accepted into a local performing arts school and continued to teach piano to help make ends meet.  

Inspired by hearing Jose Lopez and Kemal Gekic perform at the FIU Liszt Society Festival, she came to FIU as a piano major. A 4.0 GPA student, Beatrice became interested in Musicology and completed a 169-page Honors College thesis under the guidance of David Dolata, which led to her representing FIU in several national and international conference presentations. She also served as the Music History Learning Assistant and is the recipient of the Presidential Scholarship.  

After an internship at the Washington National Cathedral, Beatrice was hired as the Concert and Operations Manager for the Washington National Cathedral Music Ministry, making her the youngest member of the Cathedral’s large staff. Her many responsibilities include arranging and staffing musical events, managing the music library, creating programs, and writing program notes. Beatrice also takes care of her younger sister who now lives with her in Washington.  

Beatrice credits her success to the strength and tenacity of her mother, who, despite the disadvantages of being a single mother and raising three children, she went through great strides to make sure that Beatrice was exposed professionally and academically to the very best.   

As she reflects on her time at FIU, Beatrice recalls the many times the university stepped in to support, mentor and help refine her interests.  

By Heather Radi-Bermudez, 
Director, Office of Strategic Communication + Public Relations 
Assistant Teaching Professor, Department of Communication 
College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts