Student Highlights


orlando cervantes

CCL Ambassador, Orlando Cervantes (Will Rice ‘20) 

During his ASB trip in McAllen, Texas, it struck Orlando how different his life could have been. Orlando Cervantes is a Will Rice senior majoring in Biochemistry and Cell Biology. As a child of Mexican immigrant parents, Orlando has had an interesting relationship with his culture and particularly the Spanish language. In school he was only taught in English and now still doesn’t feel completely comfortable speaking his mother tongue. 

“Growing up, I would always feel self conscious about speaking Spanish in public. And it wasn’t because, “Ohh, I’m the only person [Hispanic] here.” I would see people like myself,  but it always made me uncomfortable, speaking Spanish.”

Yet, on his first ASB trip, Orlando found himself immersed and learning about bilingual education access in the Rio Grande Valley. Orlando reflected on how this trip amazed him not only in how the school system provided bilingual education through university, but also how it put an emphasis on embracing the bicultural experience. This was a big change from just a few years prior for kids like Orlando, who would be punished for speaking Spanish in school, despite having a majority Latino population. 

A year later, Orlando was determined to return to the Rio Grande Valley – this time as a site leader. Orlando joined forces with another Rice student  from his first ASB trip to explore the public healthcare system in the Rio Grande Valley and how to improve it to provide easy, accessible, and cheap healthcare for the people. However, the transition from participant to site leader wasn’t easy. “It was a lot of work, it was a lot of patience, it was a lot of – a lot of care went into it. I definitely think that it was all worth it.”

For Orlando, he mentioned some of the most difficult responsibilities of the site leader was keeping his team positive even when things went “a bit off the wayside”. One of the most memorable experiences for him was pulling an all-nighter to complete a data analysis project for one of their community partners. Luckily, his group remained in good spirits throughout and ended up impressing the partner. 

“There was a moment where one of our partners expected us to complete this data analysis project within the course of an afternoon, even though it wasn’t really possible. There were  a lot of us there, but we didn’t all have experience in analyzing qualitative information and then presenting it. So, we had to do it right. And we did it right." 

As his time as an undergraduate comes to an end, Orlando has reflected on how his Alternative Spring Break trips have influenced his future aspirations. After graduation, Orlando will be doing biosciences research at the University of Washington where he hopes to study diseases that have a large impact on marginalized communities and developing countries. He aims to be a civically minded scientist where he is able to integrate his knowledge in global health with biology. 

“Because now I can understand how my research could really impact the world. You’re not just doing it to get published, you’re doing it because you have a goal of serving a global community and that oftentimes gets overlooked.”


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Center for Civic Leadership
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