After joining UIC College of Medicine’s Moderna COVID-19 vaccine trial team, College of DuPage alumnus Adrian Raygoza hoped the vaccine would help put an end to one of the deadliest pandemics in U.S. history. His dream turned into reality last week when final results from national trials confirmed that the vaccine has 94 percent efficacy.
“After we heard the news, my colleagues and I all did a quick self-handshake in celebration, but we all went right back to work.” Raygoza said. “Vaccine trials will continue because there is a lot of data we still have to find out. We also are moving forward with preventative treatment trials. There is so much more work that needs to be done, but the positive results from Moderna and Pfizer’s trials are a tremendous step in the right direction.”
Playing a critical role in the trial as a clinical researcher, Raygoza spent the last few months nasal swabbing participants, as well as helping with day-to-day qualitative analysis and data inspection.
“I’m doing the highest-risk job possible because I’m interacting one-on-one with participants,” he said. “A lot of the volunteers in the trial just want to make a difference in their communities. We have factory workers, front-line works, teachers, cafeteria workers and many others in various high-risk jobs. They all have a different backstory for why they enrolled. Being in such close contact with them, they usually share their story with me. It has been a very humbling experience.”
While Raygoza will continue his role in the vaccine trial, he recently was tasked with designing, implementing and running a contact tracing center that will be housed at UIC’s hospital. The contact tracing center is a part of a larger such program run by the Chicago Department of Public Health.
“I’m busy to say the least,” Raygoza said. “We have built the contact tracing center from the ground up, including ordering equipment and ensuring it was properly encrypted, training employees and managing day-to-day operations.”
Raygoza said he will always remember COD for helping him discover his passion for science.
“If it wasn’t for COD, I wouldn’t be on this educational and professional track, and I most certainly wouldn’t be on this vaccine trial,” he said. “COD was the foundation for everything that has culminated in my career so far. It has been one heck of a ride.”
The road to working in public health has been a long and, at times, challenging one for Raygoza with many pivots along the way.
After high school, Raygoza enlisted into the U.S. Army, where he became a sergeant and served for 10 years.
“During the height of the war in Afghanistan, I felt called to serve my country,” he said. “Once my service ended, I realized I could only go so far without a college education. That’s what enticed me to come to COD to explore what my educational options were. It was also notable that COD has a magnificent track record of serving military veterans.”
Raygoza enrolled at COD with an interest in criminal justice, but he was surprised to find that his science classes immediately peaked his interest.
“After being in Afghanistan, I was still in a very militaristic mindset,” he said. “I thought criminal justice was the right path for me, but when I started my classes at COD, I realized there were a lot of similarities between my science and criminal justice classes. They both involve researching and investigating, which is what I have 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. They led me down the path that I’m on today by setting good examples with their own career paths.”
Raygoza graduated from COD in 2017 with an Associate of Arts degree in criminal justice. He transferred to UIC, where he recently earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biological sciences. During his undergraduate years, he began working as a research assistant for UIC’s Division of Infectious Disease. He worked alongside teams of seasoned researchers who mentored and taught him how to conduct professional clinical research. He helped play an integral role in numerous vaccine trials, most notably a global HIV vaccine clinical trial.
In addition to Raygoza’s professional achievements, he is a nationally certified peer recovery support specialist for Veterans Prevail, a cognitive behavioral change platform where military veterans help each other overcome challenges post-service.
“Through my work with other military veterans, I am able to share my experiences and find common ground that can help them process their time in war zones and life, post-service,” he said. “There were many challenges for me after I served in Afghanistan. I have found it mutually beneficial to hear others’ struggles and personally relate to their stories.”
While completing his work on the vaccine trial team and earning his master’s degree online at Boston University School of Public Health, Raygoza, interested in a long-standing career in clinical research, is pursuing a doctorate degree program in public health.