Dana Garibaldi

What does inspiration mean to you and how would you use your platform in your future career to inspire others?

If you were to ask a person what the most memorable object in their family doctor’s office is, they would surely have different responses. A reasonable adult might say a stethoscope, an important tool and iconic symbol for many physicians today. A child would probably say the lollipop they get at the end of their visit. But to me, the most memorable aspect of my family doctor’s office is a long bulletin board hanging proudly in the hallway. This board has hundreds of photographs, cards, and drawings carefully tacked on with colorful push pins, each one from a pediatric patient that my family doctor impacted. It is objects like these that characterize medicine not as a cold, uninviting profession filled with nothing but lonely hospital rooms, as some people may believe, but instead as a career teeming with hope and life. I have distinct memories of staring up at this board as a young girl and reading the many kind and grateful messages from his patients, ranging from scribbly drawings to messages thanking my doctor for identifying their brain tumor before it became deadly. This board, and by extension, my family doctor, has profoundly inspired me to pursue a noble profession like medicine and use my knowledge to help save and improve the lives of others.

But there are many other individuals in my life who have also inspired me. For instance, my seventh grade science teacher’s unwavering enthusiasm and encouragement throughout her class inspired me to develop a love for Biology and even major in it in college. My mother continuously inspires me to work hard and rise above the obstacles that life presents me with. It is from these people that I can derive my definition for inspiration: changing someone’s perception of the world by providing them with enough motivation to create a positive change.

I hope to become a medical scientist in the future, combining my passion for helping others through medicine with my love of scientific inquiry. Though the road to obtaining both an MD and a PhD degree will undoubtedly be strenuous, I know that my responsibilities of both treating patients and solving some of the world’s most pressing questions about medical diseases will be sufficiently fulfilling. Through this position, I hope to inspire others by demonstrating that an individual from any background, even a Latina girl from a border city, can possess the mental strength and intellect to save lives on a daily basis through her work as a physician and innovations in biomedical research. I would share my story with others either in-person or on social media, approach both my patients and my experiments with positive energy and enthusiasm, and support those who wish to pursue a similar path by providing advice and helpful resources whenever possible. Ultimately, I hope that I can serve as a role model to my community, and have people look up to me the way that I looked up to that bulletin board all those years ago.

What are you currently doing to inspire those around you?

I have spent most of my life in the town of McAllen, Texas, a border city with Reynosa, Mexico that houses a unique Mexican-American culture, with endless rows of quinceañera dress shops downtown and delicious raspa stands on every block. My hometown bleeds with joy, unity, and pride. But that doesn’t mean that I have never felt alone.

Growing up, I became fascinated with the world of science, which motivated me to join STEM activities such as science fairs, engineering summer camps, and competitions like Science Olympiad. When I would look at the participants around me, though, I noticed that there were very few girls in the crowd, making me question whether I belonged or even deserved to be there. Whenever I advanced to activities beyond my community, this doubt only worsened. At one of my first Science Olympiad competitions, I joyfully watched my current high school run up to the stage to win their very first award at the state level, chanting “Si se puede!” or “Yes we can!”. As I beamed with happiness, a man in front of me proclaimed that my high school is full of “stupid Mexicans”, throwing his head back with laughter.

These words and experiences hurt me deeply. They told me that no matter how hard I worked, my identity would always be reduced to a “stupid Mexican” who didn’t belong in the room. As I grew older, though, this frustration transformed into a desire to inspire myself and those around me. I wanted to not only prove to myself that I was capable of success regardless of labels and stereotypes, but to change the narrative altogether.

Helping close the race and gender gaps in STEM has been my mission for the past three years of high school. Despite a global pandemic, I remained motivated to innovate through projects like the Beyond STEM Summer Camp, a program that allowed minority middle school students in my community to exercise their passions for STEM through hands-on activities and listen to diverse guest speakers. I also founded a nonprofit organization called Miss Scientist, which works to inspire minorities and female youth to pursue careers in STEM through interactive community events. Finally, I organized the She Can STEM Virtual Event, which amassed over 70 registrants from 8 countries worldwide and featured female scientists as guest speakers from NASA, Microsoft, Stanford University, and more, as well as opportunities for young girls to get involved in STEM.

To some, these efforts may seem too extravagant, as not every young girl or Latino youth will want to pursue STEM. But to me, even a “This is so cool!” and a smile is enough to tell me that I have left a member of the next generation inspired and confident enough to pursue a STEM career. It tells me that my community is not composed of “stupid Mexicans” or weak girls, but is instead composed of the leaders of tomorrow, which I was able to play a role in motivating.

What you would do with the scholarship award if you were to receive it?

If I were to receive this scholarship award, I would use the money to pay a portion of my college tuition. Both the in-state and out-of-state tuition across many universities has risen significantly in recent years, so receiving a scholarship like the 2022 Desire to Inspire Scholarship would help alleviate my financial burden of attending college. Through scholarships like this one, I can obtain a university education and prepare myself to become a successful physician-scientist without having to worry as much about the costs associated with it.

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