As a teenager in Colombia, Nahiris Bahamón Fernández had to stop her studies during her second year of medical school when her family moved to the U.S. due to political upheaval.
She began attending College of DuPage while adapting to a new culture as her family settled in Oswego. While at COD, she participated in the Undergraduate Research Collaborative, a five-year initiative funded by the National Science Foundation that provided research opportunities for two-year college students at COD, Harper College, Oakton Community College and the City College of Chicago.
“Being part of the URC was a great experience that allowed me to develop and apply my analytical and critical thinking skills in ways that I wouldn’t have being able to do through attending class alone,” she said. “It also prepared me for the rigorousness of the science education at UW-Madison.”
Richard Jarman, professor of Chemistry at COD who Bahamón Fernández cites as a mentor, was impressed by her work.
“This award is proof that good things do happen to nice people,” he said. “While professors are often cited as being a source of inspiration for their students, her achievement is a source of inspiration for me, and it is my honor to have had the opportunity to contribute to her success.”
While at COD, Nahiris Bahamón Fernández received several impressive awards. She was one of only 20 community college students in the United States to earn a prestigious $5,000 Guistwhite Scholarship, which is based on academic achievement and participation in Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society of community colleges. She was named second team of the All-USA Community and Junior Colleges Academic Team.
Finally, she received the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship, the largest private scholarship for two-year and community college transfer students. Bahamón Fernández used that scholarship – which provided $30,000 annually for up to three years – to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied both biology and anthropology. Then she received the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Scholarship, a one-time award of $50,000 to continue her education, which she did at Boston University studying medicine.
“Being awarded a Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship is a great honor,” she said. “I feel truly fortunate to have been supported by the foundation for a second time!”
After graduating with distinction from the University of Madison, Bahamón Fernández took a year off and served in Americorps as a health educator in a community health center in Chicago. At BU, she earned an MD degree, after which she finished her residency as a pediatrics physician at Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago. She also was a LUCENT (Leadership for Urban Primary Care Education and Transformation) Scholar at her residency program.
Bahamón Fernández is now a pediatrician at Esperanza Health Center in Chicago, a community organization where she provides bilingual pediatric primary care to the communities in Chicago’s southwest neighborhoods. She is an active advocate for health care access for all and works to raise awareness about the effects of social issues (poverty, lack of opportunities) and climate change in the health of individuals and populations.
As for current College of DuPage students, she advises them to never give up on what they really want to become.
“There were many times when I felt like my goals seemed too far away, almost impossible to achieve,” she said. “Fortunately, I had people around me who believed in me and encourage me to keep working toward achieving the goals I set for myself.”