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Persistence Pays Off

The wolf wood sculpture in Talley Student Union

Jesús Vina Moreno, a member of the NC State class of 2022, knows a little about overcoming adversity.

As a child growing up in the Dominican Republic, he became so ill he nearly died. Doctors tried everything until, he said, one particular doctor tried one more treatment. It worked.

His mother, a doctor herself, later moved to the United States. Vina Moreno joined her as he prepared to start college, enrolling at Gaston College, a community college in Dallas, North Carolina. He spoke very little English and struggled in the beginning, eventually taking time off from college to better learn the language.

Rather than giving up, Vina Moreno kept his eye on his goals. With dreams of becoming a doctor — sparked in part by his mom, as well as the doctor back in the Dominican Republic who worked to save his life — he improved his English and re-enrolled at Gaston College.

As a scholarship recipient there through the STEM-focused SPARC Program, he first heard about the Goodnight Scholarships program at NC State. Gaston College would provide him with an associate’s degree, but Vina Moreno needed a four-year degree to apply to medical school.

Supported by his professors and advisers in SPARC, he applied for the NC State scholarship. Their coaching and help in the application process is something he remains grateful for to this day.

“Money was an issue; my mom just didn’t have the resources to support me through college,” Vina Moreno said. “If it wasn’t for the Goodnight [Scholarship], I probably wouldn’t have made it to NC State — there was no way possible I would’ve been able to pay for it.”

Vina Moreno indeed was awarded a Goodnight Scholarship and, six years after he first moved to the United States, he graduated this month with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences with a concentration in integrative physiology and neurobiology.

Jesús Vina Moreno
Jesús Vina Moreno in his well-earned NC State cap and gown. Photo courtesy of Jesús Vina Moreno.

Along with the financial assistance, the Goodnight Scholarships program provided him with a support system and access to people and programs that helped him grow.

“The financial support, that was amazing, but I knew the value of the program beyond the money side,” he said.

He notes that it took him a while to become confident enough to communicate with people in English, and the Goodnight Scholars helped. Through activities like workshops and skill-building activities, his confidence grew to the point that, today, he’s comfortable speaking in front of a room of people.

“I’m going into science, and I want to become a doctor. Communication skills are very important,” he said.

Though much of his time at NC State was not “normal,” thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, Vina Moreno said the Goodnight Scholars team continued to offer events and services as much as possible, providing a community for him as well.

He also served as a STEM coach once it was safe again to visit local youth and talk to them about their futures. He recalls going to a Boys & Girls Club in Raleigh where he encountered a group of kids who were not interested in science at all. His team found a way to get them to work on Punnett Squares and “they were loving it,” he said. Other kids he has encountered already loved science but were unsure where to go with that passion.

“The kids who were not very interested in science, we got them interested, and for kids that were interested in science, we showed them a path to college,” he said.

This fall, Vina Moreno took the last of his NC State classes online and returned to Gaston College, where he works for the SPARC Program, serves as a research assistant and tutors in the sciences.

“I’m helping kids now — it’s a way of paying back the contributions that the SPARC Program gave me,” he said.

Goodnight Scholar Jesús Vina Moreno taking graduation photos at the Memorial Belltower at Henry Square. Photo courtesy of Jesús Vina Moreno.

After working hard over the past six years, he plans to take a little time and then apply to medical schools, enrolling in 2024 if all goes according to plan.

Vina Moreno said he has a particular interest in rare diseases — the ones that are not curable or perhaps don’t yet have a clear treatment. Those types of diseases sometimes don’t receive enough attention and doctors don’t receive enough training on them, he said, and he’d like to work to change that.

He credits NC State for setting him up for success and the Goodnight Scholarships program made it all possible.

“If you’re from a low-income family, you already have an unequal start going to college,” he said. “Giving people like me a scholarship kind of balances out everything financially.

“The financial stress would have been devastating for me — I wouldn’t have been able to go to NC State at all. That right there highlights the importance of the Goodnight Scholarship.”