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May 19, 2021

Future Physician

The American Dream has become a reality for Honors student Exel Valle-Estrada ’21. Thanks to his hard work, perseverance, and a deep concern for the community, Exel has excelled in the United States after fleeing Guatemala as a teenager.

He ended up in Baltimore City where, amid uncertainty and strife, he learned English, worked jobs, and attended school. He earned top marks and, when it came time to apply for college, he discovered Guilford when perusing the book, Colleges That Change Lives

“Guilford stood out to me because it is a small institution and has a pre-med program, and its science department is small but mighty,” says Exel, a Health Sciences and Biology double major. 

He was first introduced to science in high school and was in awe of what he learned about DNA. Then a personal experience led to his medical school aspirations. “I became interested in medicine while interpreting for my grandmother. I thought I could contribute to the field, and do a really good job.”

"I want to give back to my community because I know the power mentoring and tutoring can have when accessing higher education as a first-generation college student."

Exel Valle Estrada '21
Health Sciences, Biology double major

An Amazing Four Years

Exel, a Bonner Scholar, was involved in a variety of academic pursuits and community-service projects during what he calls an “amazing four years” at Guilford.

He completed an internship at New York University’s Genomics and Systems Biology Department, where he focused on four transcription factors that give rise to different neurons. The study could lead to treatments for conditions that are caused due to abnormal brain development. He also interned at the Baltimore City Health Department and with Greensboro Hospice and Palliative Services to explore specialties in medicine.

“There is so much that I don’t know about science and health care, and I think, for me, just knowing that drives me to work really hard to learn as much as I can,” he says.

[Read an article about Exel written by the Guilford College Office of Advancement.]

Exel has volunteered with Cone Health, Hospice, and the Alzheimer’s Association. He has also served as a mentor for immigrant high-school students, advocating about their options after high school.

“I work with students in different states because I know the importance of having a mentor in high school. And I want to give back to my community because I know the power mentoring and tutoring can have when accessing higher education as a first-generation college student,” he says. 

[Read an article about Exel written by the Baltimore Sun.]

Exel also works as a medical interpreter and is involved in a community-based research project focused on Montagnard medicinal plants, specifically Crassocephalum crepidioides. Because of his work, in fall of 2020, he was awarded the N.C. Campus Compact’s Community Impact Student Award for leadership and service.

A Bright Future

The recent Guilford graduate will be spending his summer studying at the extremely selective Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine Annual Undergraduate Summer Scholars Program.

“I’ll be part of a team that focuses on finding nutritional and pharmacological strategies to prevent and treat Type 2 diabetes, obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome. I am really thrilled. I also hope to get a job as a research assistant.” After that, Exel has his sights set on medical school to become a bilingual physician providing care for underserved communities.

His advice for others pursuing medicine? “In addition to knowing the sciences, we have to develop specific skills to work with diverse communities. College is the perfect place to do that,” Exel explains. “I was very lucky to be part of the Bonner and Honors Program and attend a school where one of our Core Values is diversity.”

Are you looking for a college campus where you fit in and feel at home? Are you interested in a pre-med program at a North Carolina college that can help you reach your goal of studying medicine? Schedule your personalized visit to Guilford College to learn more about life as a Guilfordian.