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Ricardo Espinal ’17

Breaking Through Barriers

Leaving home to attend college for the first time can be a daunting task, but doing that with a limited understanding of the English language can make you feel like a fish out of water. Alumnus Ricardo Espinal ’17 was faced with that challenge when he started at SUNY Potsdam four years ago. Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, Espinal moved to the Bronx during high school, having never spoken English before.

“I moved to this country six years ago. I had to start high school in eleventh grade and in that time, I only had two years to understand English to an extent that I could write and talk. That was a pretty hard transition,” he said.

It’s not surprising that Espinal felt unprepared when he started at SUNY Potsdam in the fall of 2013. “The hardest challenge I faced freshman year was trying to communicate with people…I was an introvert due to the fact that I wasn’t able to fully communicate. But along the way, I learned how to appeal to someone else’s feelings and how to understand the person,” Espinal said.

He said that watching movies and cartoons helped him to improve his oral communication skills, but it was Dr. Jennifer Mitchell, associate professor of English and Communication, who was instrumental in improving his writing skills during her composition 101: Writing & Critical Thinking class. “She really wanted me to excel…She knew that I needed that extra help and she encouraged me,” he said.

Although it was a challenge to master the English language, the transition from New York City to Potsdam was an easy one for Espinal, after growing up in a rural area of the Dominican Republic. “I really like the countryside environment with peaceful living and tranquility. And when I moved to Potsdam, it was pretty interesting to find this inner peace and also that the people are so friendly and they’re willing to help you out,” he said.

Espinal praised SUNY Potsdam for its smaller class sizes and an environment where you can build relationships with your professors. His junior year, he declared biochemistry as his major and started working more closely with the chemistry faculty. “Dr. (Maria) Hepel and Dr. Fadi (Bou-Abdallah) are top tier professors. They teach general chemistry to incoming freshmen, so they can get these students to awaken their passion in chemistry,” he said.

As a student, Espinal was also very involved with mixed martial arts, entering grappling tournaments in Albany his sophomore and junior years. He was part of the MMA Club for all four years as an undergraduate student where he specialized in jiu jitsu. “I am a scientist, but I also like to fight. I was the president of the MMA Club my senior year,” he said.

After graduating in May, he remained on campus for another nine weeks to conduct research through a Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program grant. His research was testing the viability of using gold nanoparticles to effectively administer Dabrafenib, a medication used to treat melanoma. Hepel, who he considers his most influential professor at SUNY Potsdam, was a mentor for him this summer during his research process.

Espinal just applied for a job as an Emergency Medical Technician. He recently took the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and he is going through the process of applying to medical school.

As he opens the book on the next chapter of his life, Espinal recommends that current students avoid getting discouraged when times get rough and to rely on staff and faculty at SUNY Potsdam. “You have all these resources and you have all these people who are willing to help you out,” he said.

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