Major: Criminal and Justice Studies/Biology
Working in public health has been a long but rewarding odyssey for College of DuPage alumnus Adrian Raygoza, with many pivots along the way.
His journey began in 2007 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army during the height of the Afghanistan War, where he served for more than 10 years.
“I traveled the world and built relationships,” he said. “I learned about new cultures, how to speak other languages and gained exposure to population health issues in different countries. I learned just how big the world really is.”
When he returned home armed with these diverse life experiences, Raygoza knew he could only get so far without a college education, understanding its importance to both himself and his family. As a first-generation college student, he explored his educational options and selected COD, which helped him determine the right career.
“I enrolled at COD planning to pursue criminal justice, but I was surprised to find that my science classes piqued my interest,” he said. “Both disciplines involve researching and investigating, which is what I developed a passion for. When I became unsure of what path to take after graduation, my COD professors helped me in my decision to pursue science.”
Raygoza earned his Associate in Arts Degree and transferred to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences. He also found positions as a research aid in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UI Health and as a research coordinator at UIC’s School of Public Health. These opportunities allowed him to work alongside seasoned scientists on clinical research projects that included a global HIV vaccine trial.
“As a sergeant in the Army and through my educational experiences, I learned that I’m passionate about helping people, whether through health education, interventions, policy or advocacy,” he said.
After graduating from UIC, Raygoza set his sights on a master’s degree in Public Health. But life had other plans.
In March of 2020, COVID-19 changed everyone’s lives in a matter of days. Raygoza watched this deadly, global health crisis unfold before his eyes and became even more emboldened to pursue public health as a career path.
Because of the positive reputation he gained during his work as an undergraduate researcher, he was invited to become a project manager for the Division of Infectious Diseases at UI Health’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Team, as well as work as a clinical research coordinator for a Moderna mRNA vaccine trial. He subsequently became operations manager at UI Health’s Contact Tracing Center to support Chicago’s broader efforts to track community spread of the virus.
“It just happened to be ironic how I bridged researching one infectious disease, HIV, into working on another, COVID-19,” he said. “There were several important lessons that I took away from my work with the COVID-19 response. As public health professionals, we need to be extra careful about the messaging that goes out to the public. It’s important to remain non-partisan when focusing on science and working with the communities we serve.
“From a public health standpoint, it’s critical to spotlight the fact we are also members of the same communities that we are trying to help. We need to incorporate the communities that we serve into our work, whether through advisory boards, forums or direct community engagement.”
The pandemic motivated Raygoza to continue pursuing a master’s in Public Health, a degree he earned with honors last spring from Boston University through its online program.
He then became the clinical operations manager at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in its Department of Preventative Medicine. In his role, he worked in close collaboration with the National Institutes of Health and Liver Cirrhosis Network to design and implement clinical research studies. Next he became the practice manager at Northwest Community Hospital, NorthShore University HealthSystem, for the Illinois Center for Pancreatic and Hepatobiliary Diseases and for the Center for Advanced Therapeutic Endoscopy.
Now Raygoza is leading departments in surgical oncology and advanced gastroenterology with a specialized focus on pancreatic cancer at a hospital in the Chicago suburbs, using his acquired skills to lead both clinical and nonclinical personnel through influence and strategy. He has helped drive clinical research with a focus on oncology, specifically pancreatic cancer, and is developing a new hospital program to advance the early detection of pancreatic cancer for high-risk individuals.
Raygoza is proud to be in positions that are helping and inspiring others.
“As hard as our job can be at times, it is important to remember that people are watching. We serve as role models and mentors in our communities. Through our work, we are setting an example for young and upcoming students and professionals entering the field.”
Raygoza will always remember COD for helping him discover his passion for science and credits his success to several faculty members, including Biology Professor James Ludden and Biology Associate Professor Thomas Jor-El Hardy.
“I did a study abroad trip with Professor Ludden in Canada for an ecological field research class,” Raygoza said. “During our weeklong excursion, he encouraged me to go as far in my education as possible. I didn’t even have my associate degree yet, but he knew I had the potential and the passion to do great things. A fire was lit in me after that.”
Ludden said Raygoza has a graceful way of pushing himself to achieve his life goals and is dedicated to helping others and society as a whole.
“What amazes me about Adrian is how he has used his indomitable spirit to accomplish so much in the three short years since he took my course,” he said. “He has channeled his lifetime of experiences into a force of good in our desperate society. He is a remarkable individual who continues to impress me with his academic accomplishments and scholarly pursuits.”
Raygoza’s first biology class at COD was with Hardy, and the two have stayed in touch. With the launch of Hardy’s Global Insights Video Exchange project, Raygoza is eager to collaborate and help COD students engage in their education outside the classroom.
“I was fortunate enough to have traveled extensively during my military service prior to becoming a college student,” he said. “Getting out of my comfort zone to experience the world in person has had a tremendous impact on my life and education. I’m so glad that Tom is working on implementing these types of opportunities for COD students and putting the spotlight on something that should be an important component of a college education.”
Despite many ground-breaking professional achievements, Raygoza strives to accomplish more. He currently is in Indiana University’s Doctor of Public Health program in Global Health Leadership, building toward specializing in pancreatic cancer policy and advocacy for innovative diagnosis biomarkers.
“There is still so much to explore,” he said. “During my final capstone project for my master’s, I got a chance to dive deep into the HIV epidemic in the southern regions of the African continent. I was heavily interested in studying how the governmental and non-governmental agencies collaborated with one another to build better policies and technological advancements that will help battle the HIV epidemic. I can foresee myself wanting to explore this further.”
Raygoza thanks COD for its influence on his life.
“If it wasn’t for COD, I wouldn’t be on this educational and professional track. COD was the foundation for everything that has culminated in my career. So far, it has been one heck of a ride, and I’m excited to see what my future holds.”