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Eagle Feature: FGCU Students Exceeding Education’s Expectations

College of Arts and Sciences Spotlight: Damian Hernandez
Jessica Piland

Damian Hernandez, a senior pursuing a double major in biochemistry and forensic science at FGCU, has dedicated his college career to being of service to underprivileged communities.  

As a freshman, he joined FGCU’s chapter of Global Medical Brigades: an international movement of students and medical professionals who work alongside local communities and staff to implement sustainable health systems. 

The organization often works in rural and under-resourced areas. Most recently, the chapter traveled to Honduras to provide patients with access to healthcare. 

“We have different stations to help out the communities who don’t have the funds or the money to go see a doctor or go to a clinic,” Hernandez said. “They are so secluded from the urban cities, or they have limitations on where they can go. So, we just go help those communities in the medical sense.” 

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The chapter provides the countries with professionals in the medical field, such as doctors and pharmacists.

“We would be taking them [the patients] names and in triage. We would measure their weight, height, and blood pressure. Then they would see a doctor who would go over their personal health history and complete clinical procedures and then they would see the pharmacist,” he said. 

To continue aiding those in underprivileged communities, Hernandez joined Project Narrative: a mentorship project between FGCU students and under-deserved members of Lee County high schools. The organization guides high school students as they go through the college application process.

Jessica Piland

“The club has gone to multiple high schools and has done multiple meetings with students. We help them with their personal statements and answer any questions colleges may have. Sort of helping them with the process of applications since it is something we already have experience with,” Hernandez said. 

He has a personal correlation for joining both organizations. 

Though born in the U.S., Hernandez spent most of his childhood living in Mexico. Going on project trips with the Global Medical Brigade reminds him of his upbringing and his parents’ life in Mexico.

“It’s that sense of helping the community who don’t have enough, or who are in places that, unfortunately, don’t have financial support, or are not established as much as other places in the country or even outside of the country,” he said. “They are rural communities, which my parents were also part of at some point when they were in Mexico. It goes back to helping people who are in a position which I was initially in during my childhood.”

Before Hernandez’s freshman year of high school, his family moved to Felda, Florida, a neighborhood encompassing mostly Hispanic, Mexican and African American families. 

The change was drastic for him. At the time, Hernandez only knew a few English words, forcing him to adapt quickly to the situation. He was also attending a low-income high school that was unable to provide students with resources when applying for college. 

His drive to join Project Narrative comes from his high school circumstances.

“The Project Narrative’s mission is to help these underrepresented communities, which is a lot of Black and Hispanic communities. Since I was already in FGCU and knew about the college process. I know how to apply for colleges, and I’ve already worked on a lot of personal statements for grants and scholarships. I already have a lot of knowledge and insights on how to do that. I could help other people who are just starting their college journey or their post-high school education, which I, at the time, didn’t have that support,” Hernandez said. 

When not working to help the underprivileged, Hernandez completes chemistry research. For the past three years, he has been researching inorganic chemistry under the Department of Chemistry & Physics Program Coordinator and Professor Dr. Gregory McManus. 

“The main research thing I have been working on is on metal-organic frameworks, MOF for short, it focuses on synthesizing a material that is porous to get a 3D cage which has a lot of applications and uses to them,” he said. “Some people use them for chemistry uses such as water filtration and gas storage. It also has direct uses like environmental applications.”  

He became interested in chemistry after taking Advanced Placement Chemistry in high school. Once he started at FGCU, he chose his major in biochemistry and liked his classes. This is where he discovered his fascination for organic chemistry. 

Since his freshman year, Hernandez has been a member of FGCU’s Chemistry Club. This is where he first crossed paths with the College of Arts & Sciences Chair and Professor Dr. Sulekha Coticone. However, he wouldn’t become fully acquainted with her until the spring 2023 semester when he took her Forensic Chemistry class. 

“My classes have hard working students, so he’s very smart and very personable,” Coticone said. “I’ve watched him in the Chemistry Club meetings and he’s very personable, very soft-spoken, and he takes up responsibilities. He’s smart. He did well in my class.” 

She became impressed with Hernandez’s nature to take on a lot of tasks with ease. 

“He’s a biochemistry major but he recently approached me and said he wants to do forensic science as well for a duo major, and I thought ‘Wow, that’s a lot of classes to take.’ He was like ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.’ So, I was impressed by his very calm nature, which is good to see,” Coticone said. 

Last spring, Coticone wrote Hernandez a letter of recommendation to potentially be selected into the FGCU Hall of Fame: the highest recognition given to student leaders on campus. Only ten students are inducted each year. 

On May 1, Hernandez was one of the ten. 

“It was a Friday and I was doing one of the last labs for Biochemistry. They sent a letter to everyone, ‘Oh this is the Hall of Fame for 2023,’” Hernandez said. “It was pretty surprising. There were a lot of people in it who I also thought deserved a spot. Initially, I felt excited. I felt happy. Then, I guess I started feeling imposter syndrome. You start to question whether you deserved it or not. But at the end of the day, I feel like it’s a nice thing to have.” 

Hernandez also received the 2023 College of Arts and Sciences Student of the Year Award. 

After graduation, he plans to continue his education. Currently, he hopes to either attend graduate school to further his studies in organic chemistry or go to medical school, an idea his involvement in the Global Medical Brigades has led him to. 

“GMB is a big factor in why I want to go to medical school. Seeing doctors volunteer for these brigades is pretty eye-opening- just to go for a week and go out of your way to volunteer and essentially provide healthcare to communities that need it,” he said. 

He has also been working as a scribe in an emergency room for the past year. 

“You just get to see a lot of cases with people coming in,” Hernandez said. “Healthcare is a fast-paced working environment. So, that’s another reason why I would be interested in medical school. But, ultimately, I feel like it’s a cliché, but I want to help people.”

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About the Contributors
Alexandra Cavalier
Alexandra Cavalier, Eagle News Assistant Assignment & Features Editor
Alexandra Cavalier is a junior majoring in journalism. She is from Bradenton, FL, and has been interested in journalism since she joined the yearbook staff during her freshman year of high school. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career in publishing. When not planning her next story, you can find her studying art history or watching movies.
Jessica Piland
Jessica Piland, Eagle News Photo Editor
Jessica Piland is a senior majoring in political science and minoring in global studies. She found her passion for photography during her senior year of high school after shooting some film for fun with her grandfather’s camera from the 80s. In addition to her work as photo editor for Eagle News, she works as a staff photographer for FGCU Athletics and is a photography intern with the University Marketing and Communications department. As she enters her third year as photo editor, she is excited for the fun stories, campus events, and breaking news that Eagle News will be covering!

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