Maria De Abreu Pineda's remarkable road is about to make yet another new turn upon graduation from Stevens Institute of Technology this spring.
Following in her older brother's footsteps, the animated senior from Caracas, Venezuela emigrated to the U.S. in 2011 and enrolled at the two-year Bergen Community College (BCC) in Paramus, New Jersey. She became active in the college's community, studied hard, achieved a perfect 4.0 GPA in engineering science and was eventually named valedictorian of her graduating class, giving a speech at BCC's 2014 graduation ceremony.
Like her brother, De Abreu Pineda then sought and received significant scholarship support (in her case, from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation) to continue her education at a four-year school, selecting Stevens for its mix of academics and campus life. She would go on to major in biomedical engineering, complete the university's pre-med program and perform research internships at New York University and the medical device firm Stryker during her busy three years on campus.
"When considering schools, I liked the size of Stevens and the academics, and the fact that I could stay in the New Jersey area. Stevens was also generous with a great financial [aid] package, which was very important in enabling me to come here," she explains.
"But I think the best feature here is the orientation toward service. So many students here are giving back in so many ways, and this isn't necessarily typical of every STEM institution because the academics are so rigorous that you become very focused on academics.Sometimes they are helping people here in Hoboken. Sometimes they are part of a service club. Sometimes they are taking a trip to Jamaica on a service program to help others there. There are just so many options here."
Teaching flamenco; chartering a student organization
Indeed, De Abreu Pineda herself has performed a great deal of service.
During her final winter break before graduating Stevens, she spent three weeks not at a ski resort or on a Caribbean beach but instead in Myanmar, volunteer-instructing English professors in that nation.
"I was the fun one," she laughs. "I organized games for the group, and at night we had time off to talk and connect with each other. I love meeting new people and hearing their stories."
She has also volunteer-taught flamenco dance, at which she is very proficient, to girls from age 2 through 7. She tutors. She frequently returns to BCC to discuss future options and sources of financial support with graduating students from her own perspective.
And to help newly arrived transfer students at Stevens adapt to life in a rigorous, four-year environment, De Abreu Pineda helped found a new student organization on campus, the Transfer Student Association, serving as its president and chairperson since 2016. The group pairs incoming transfer students with 'buddies' during their first year; coordinates activities for transfer students; and schedules return trips to students' previous colleges to advise those faced with similar choices about their futures.
"I feel like I have a special connection to my fellow transfer students, each time I meet another one," she explains. "When I first arrived at Stevens, there was not very much being done for transfer students by transfer students. I felt I wanted to help out those students who are fresh to the school but not freshmen, by organizing and formalizing a network."
With graduation close on the horizon, De Abreu Pineda is now meticulously applying to multiple medical schools, intent on pursuing her next dream: becoming a pediatrician.
"Although I have enjoyed the biomedical research I did during my internships, I want to be as close to patients as possible," she concludes. "I already know that I want to work with kids. And I want to travel the world. So, for me, the best way to satisfy those interests — while helping people at the same time — may be to practice medicine. That's why I hope to do that next."