Scared, nervous and excited — those were the words Peter Movilla ’10 used to describe his feelings the day before he was about to begin his medical residency in obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.
It’s the culmination of a long and arduous journey that was nearly derailed by financial hardship. In fall 2008, Movilla, who was beginning his junior year at Stevens, was at risk of having to leave the university due to a change in his financial circumstances. Lacking the necessary funds to continue his education, Movilla’s academic career was in jeopardy.
Distraught, Movilla shared his frustrations with his fraternity brother at Sigma Phi Epsilon, Daniel Silva ’10, who urged Movilla to seek advice from someone at the university. Feeling embarrassed by his situation, Movilla was reluctant to do so. But unbeknownst to Movilla, Silva took it upon himself to find out what could be done for his friend, turning to Stevens faculty and administration, who then rallied around Movilla and formed a support system to help him find solutions.
Not knowing whether the time and effort invested in his studies would ultimately lead to a degree, Movilla says the financial uncertainty that hung over his head made focusing on academics extremely challenging.
“I was afraid I would go back to waiting tables,” he said.
But with the help of his Stevens support team, Movilla found the means to stay in school for the rest of the academic year.
The following year, Movilla’s financial aid determination factored in his changed circumstances, making him eligible for need-based aid. Movilla also went on to win several scholarships, including the Class of ’64 Scholarship, to help pay for the remaining years at Stevens.
Movilla credits the close-knit Stevens community for making it possible for motivated students like him to succeed.
“Stevens cares about students. They want to help you stay in school,” he said.
And that’s especially true for students who have performed at a very high level academically and have been active on-campus as he was, Movilla says.
Along with Sigma Phi Epsilon, Movilla was a member of the pre-med honor society Alpha Epsilon Delta and the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi in addition to serving as an orientation leader. He also volunteered at Hoboken University Medical Center and participated in community service activities, such as working at the Hoboken Homeless Shelter.
After graduating from Stevens in 2010 with a B.E. in biomedical engineering, Movilla went on to attend Weill Cornell Medical College. When he graduated Weill Cornell this past May, Movilla says he couldn’t help but think about the people who made that day possible.
“Not a day goes by that I don't think about how different my life would have been if it was not for the empathy and compassion of the Stevens staff and my Sigma Phi Epsilon brothers to ensure that I remained in school,” said Movilla.
The education he received at Stevens, he says, provided an excellent foundation for medical school.
“Stevens’ engineering school’s vigorous curriculum prepared me for the same level of workload medical school requires from its students,” he said. “My ability to see the body from a systems perspective allowed me to excel in the studies of physiology and pathophysiology.”
Interestingly enough, a career in medicine was not what Movilla had in mind when he first came to Stevens. He started out as a mechanical engineering major. But that changed during his freshman year after a fortuitous meeting with a graduating senior.
“Tim Meehan (’06) was on his way to become a medical student at UMDNJ, and I remember being very impressed and interested in the idea that an engineering student could pursue becoming a doctor,” Movilla recalled.
With the help of the international coed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega and his own fraternity, Movilla pursued the idea further by volunteering at Hoboken University Medical Center, at the time known as St. Mary’s Hospital.
And it was from this experience that Movilla says he discovered his true passion for assisting people in “some of their darkest times.”
Soon after, he changed his major to biomedical engineering.
“I was very fortunate to have great support from staff members in Stevens’ biomedical engineering department, specifically Dr. Arthur Ritter, Dr. Vikki Hazelwood and Dr. Philip Leopold, who encouraged me to pursue this newfound dream.”
In addition to the support he received from the Stevens faculty, Movilla says two of his fraternity brothers — Marc Van de Rijn ’10 and Pedro Pimienta ’10 — were in the library with him daily either studying for their biomedical engineering courses or preparing for the MCAT.
“Marc also recently graduated from Temple University Medical School and will soon begin a residency at Harvard in physical medicine and rehabilitation," Movilla added. He stays in touch with those who were so instrumental in his success. "The amazing collegial community that Stevens provided during my four years there truly allowed me to pursue my dreams.”
As for his own medical career, Movilla shared that his interest in obstetrics and women’s health issues was inspired by his mother, who raised Movilla and his younger brother on her own and drilled into them the importance of education.
“She was 14 years old when she had me and 16 when she had my brother,” he said. “Going to college meant a lot to her since she didn’t get to go.”
Movilla is several weeks into his residency, and says he feels completely blessed to have the privilege of calling himself a physician and beginning to make an impact on people’s lives. He is also getting acclimated to his new home. As a newly transplanted west coaster, Movilla hopes to make connections with what he understands is a very active Bay Area network of Stevens alumni.
“I know that the next four years of residency training will be emotionally, mentally and physically trying, but I am so excited to learn all that I can to be the best doctor that I can be.”