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December 2016

Student Profile: Rolando Garza

Rolando Garza
Rolando Garza

UTSA student who overcame diabetes now hopes to help others through research

Meet Rolando Garza. He's planning to use his UTSA degree to switch from fixing diesel trucks to fixing people.

Garza, a Uvalde, Texas native, first became fascinated with how things work while spending time at his family's trucking business. As a teenager, he became certified to do maintenance on big trucks to help out with the family business, but was still determined to earn a college degree.

"I had cousins who were already enrolled at UTSA, and they always talked about what a great experience they had," he said. "When I came to visit, I found that it was the only school I toured that felt like I belonged."

When Garza's UTSA classes began, he at first felt overwhelmed by the course load, but was relieved to find that his professors and fellow students were able to answer questions and help him to succeed.

"I really quickly fell in love with science," he said. "I became especially fascinated by immunology in one of my biology courses. I had to do a lot of work to keep up because I had so much to learn, but I loved it."

A member of UTSA’s Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, he signed up to work in the laboratory of Astrid Cardona, associate professor of microbiology and immunology, and began aiding her research in how diabetes can effect the retina and the brain.

"The project really drew me in," he said. "When I was a child, I was obese and pre-diabetic, and I had to make a major lifestyle change. Seeing that diabetes is preventable and affects so many people made me want to get involved in this research and help people."

Garza soon began pondering going to medical school or pursuing similar research. He credits Cardona and other faculty members with helping him to make the decision to pursue a career in research as a graduate student.

"All of my professors were really accessible," he said. "If I had any questions about my career or where I wanted to go in life, they'd always give me advice and tell me about their experiences."

He's now set to graduate from UTSA in December, and will pursue post-baccalaureate work at the University of Pennsylvania in the new year.

"Working in a lab really changed my perspective from wanting to help patients to wanting to further the field of knowledge," Garza said. "A physician can only look at so many patients a day, but if you develop a new therapy or a new drug then you can have a much wider impact."

– Joanna Carver

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