Open primary navigation menu

Mount Made: All Dreams Welcome


Alum Earns Spot in Ivy League Ph.D. Program

A Mount Saint Vincent education has the power to turn talent into opportunity. Here, all dreams are welcome. Devoted faculty members and mentors provide students with opportunities to explore their passions outside the classroom—as well as in it. And each student has the power to follow his or her goals and launch their careers.

It’s this exceptional Mount experience that guided Gerardo Reyes ’18 to earn a spot in the Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, and Biochemistry Graduate Program (MCBGP) at Brown University.

Gerardo was raised in the South American country of Peru and emigrated to the United States in pursuit of a higher education—a goal considered almost taboo for many citizens of his developing home nation. Arriving in New York without direction or even a home to go to, Gerardo remained steadfast in his goal of earning a college degree. He quickly applied to LaGuardia Community College.

As a first-generation college student and an immigrant, he faced many challenges during his first few years in New York.

“I was living here basically alone,” recalls Gerardo. “I stayed in shelters during the early years of my undergraduate career, I endured long commute hours, and finding the balance between working full-time and attending school was not easy.”

Despite the challenges, Gerardo remained faithfully devoted to his studies and finished his associate’s degree in biology. But he was then left with that ever-looming question: what’s next?

Knowing that his studies didn’t stop there, Gerardo turned to his mentor at LaGuardia, Professor of Biology Thomas Onorato. Dr. Onorato saw Gerardo’s diligence and his love of science—and he knew Gerardo’s pursuit of education was nowhere near its end.

“Gerardo had a thirst for knowledge, passion for science, strong work ethic, and unfaltering educational aspirations—even in times of great adversity,” said Dr. Onorato. “I became faculty at a community college that is part of a large urban public university not to win a Nobel Prize, but to train the next Nobel Laureate in STEM. I believe that Gerardo may just be that person.”

It was Dr. Onorato who encouraged Gerardo to apply to the Mount to complete his bachelor’s degree. Known for its state-of-the-art science research laboratories, dedicated faculty members, and generous financial aid resources, Mount Saint Vincent was the perfect fit.

And it was at the Mount where Gerardo found his passion for science.

Unlike many other institutions, Mount Saint Vincent undergraduate students in the natural sciences gain first-hand laboratory research experience alongside acclaimed faculty members. Gerardo was invited to join Associate Professor of Chemistry Janet Rollins’ research team—investigating fertility in male Drosophila melanogaster. Dr. Rollins, who also serves as a visiting scientist at Brown, played an influential role in helping Gerardo pursue his dreams of attending graduate school.

“The support I had from my Mount professors was crucial in helping me find my path,” Gerardo added. “I found encouragement and friendship in the faculty members who were often understanding and willing to help me as much as they could—both in the classroom and beyond.”

In Summer 2018, following his graduation from Mount Saint Vincent and his participation in Brown’s Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program (SR-EIP), Gerardo’s hard work paid off as he was accepted into the Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP)—also at Brown University. This year-long, research-intensive program guides students interested in pursuing a Ph.D. with career development resources and application processes.

“During my time in PREP, I was able to continue to build connections and expand my network—further preparing me for graduate school.”

Gerardo is currently wrapping up his first year as a doctoral student.

He’s been working diligently to fulfill course requirements and lab rotations; he also spends plenty of time in meetings and presenting on his work in the MCBGP program. While at LaGuardia, Gerardo co-authored several papers alongside Dr. Onorato, one of which was published in the Biological Bulletin and titled “The complexity of yolk proteins and their dynamics in the sea star Patiria miniata.” Gerardo hopes to continue working with Dr. Onorato in a professional setting and begin co-authoring another paper soon.

When reflecting on his journey from Peru to the United States and all his accomplishments so far, it’s his time at the Mount that propelled him to be the studious and inquisitive researcher he is today.

“Mount Saint Vincent really helped me get my start,” Gerardo added. “My professors and mentors helped me in more ways than one and always made sure I never felt alone.”

But what Gerardo cherishes most about his Mount experience? The friends he made along the way.

“The friendships I made are the most valuable things I took with me from the Mount. The campus really is one big family, and I’m grateful for all the connections I’ve made.”

Gerardo’s ready for some well-deserved rest and relaxation as the semester winds down. But looking ahead, he’s eager to give back to the community that helped him get his start—mentoring first-generation and immigrant students interested in higher education.

Are you Mount Made? Do you know other alums carrying out the mission of the College? Let us know—we’d love to share how the Mount launched your career. Contact us to be featured!

About the University of Mount Saint Vincent
Founded in 1847 by the Sisters of Charity, the University of Mount Saint Vincent offers nationally recognized liberal arts education and a select array of professional fields of study on a landmark campus overlooking the Hudson River. Committed to the education of the whole person, and enriched by the unparalleled cultural, educational, and career opportunities of New York City, the College equips students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary for lives of professional accomplishment, service, and leadership in the 21st century.