First-generation-in-college student “was willing to work hard, just needed guidance”

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Jean Woody Luxama has had a few monumental turning points in his life.

One was when he lived through the 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and injured hundreds of thousands more with a magnitude of 7.0 Mw.

Another was when he enrolled at Polk State College to pursue his dream of becoming a cardiac surgeon – a calling he discovered after witnessing a lack of medical care in the aftermath of the earthquake. His greatest aspiration is to return to Haiti one day to build his own hospital.

“The country’s entire infrastructure broke down in front of our eyes. Hospitals started to overflow, and medical care wasn’t there for people who needed it,” Luxama recalled. “It changed my life – from that day forward, I knew I wanted to become a doctor so that I could help people.”

But he wasn’t sure how.

“I was willing to work hard,” he said. “I just needed guidance.”

Luxama is the first in his family to go to college.

He was born on the third floor of an abandoned building to a single mother who has raised Luxama and his three siblings. He wrote about his family’s struggles in an essay, which won him a Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship from the College.

“I grew up my whole life without a father. I watched my mother struggle to make ends meet,” he wrote. “She sometimes held up to three different jobs in order to put food on the table.”

“I understood because of my upbringing, my financial hardships, and the social inequity that exists today, that it was going to be hard for me to achieve my career goals,” he continued.

But at Polk State, he received the guidance he needed to be successful in his future endeavors, he said.

Those resources include Polk State’s TRiO Student Support Services, which assists underrepresented students with developing and strengthening their academic and self-management skills. TRiO provides tutoring, mentoring, financial-aid planning, high-touch advising, and more.

“They helped me with my educational plan, advised me of which courses I needed to take, and helped me apply to FAMU (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University) to continue my education,” Luxama said, noting the assistance he received from Program Director Joyce Bentley and Senior Program Specialist John Fynn. “They got me on my path to success and achieving my dreams.”

Luxama received his Polk State Associate in Arts degree in May. He plans to study biochemistry at FAMU.

Before he starts at FAMU in the fall, he is participating in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at the Medical University of South Carolina. He will participate in research, professional development, and other hands-on experiences in his specific area of interest, cardiovascular research.

“I will have the opportunity to analyze data of previous cardiovascular cases of patients of different ages, races and genders,” Luxama said. “We will look at the similarities and differences of those cases, and research different treatments for those cases.”

He will be living on campus, he added, which will allow him to get accustomed to university life.

“I didn’t want to jump right into a university,” he explained. “I started at Polk State so that I could learn how to be successful in college.”

Through TRiO and other programs, including the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP), Luxama received the tools he needed. LSAMP specifically works with minority students with interests in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), like Luxama.

In addition to providing students with access to an extensive network of secondary education, four-year institutions, and graduate programs that offer viable pathways to STEM degree achievement, LSAMP also connects students with research opportunities, mentoring, and more.

Fynn, LSAMP’s advisor, called Luxama a hard, diligent worker who stands out as a leader and great mentor to his peers.

“He has a strong zeal to succeed in life,” Fynn said.

Bentley shared a similar sentiment, noting Luxama’s work during his time at Polk State as a STEM lab assistant, peer mentor, and Teaching Learning Computing Center (TLCC) tutor.

“We hope his story will motivate other TRiO and LSAMP students,” she said.

Before departing in May for his summer internship, Luxama expressed great gratitude for Fynn, Bentley, and everyone else who supported him at Polk State.

“I want other students to know that there are tremendous resources and people who care about them at Polk State College,” he said. “The support and guidance I received here has changed my life.”