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Meet Adriana Rivera

Date: Monday, August 15, 2022

Adriana RiveraHometown: Humacao, Puerto Rico 

Even though Adriana Rivera grew up in a medical family in Humacao, Puerto Rico, her own interest in science surprised her.  

“Both of my parents are nurses, and my sister is a medical student, but I just never thought that it was for me,” Rivera says. 

Initially, she wanted to be a language teacher or a translator. 

“I grew up speaking Spanish as my first language, and I actually learned English pretty late – when I was around 10 or 12. So, I knew how hard and fun learning languages can be, and I wanted to help people with it.”  

Taking organic chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao changed her path.  

“I was paired with a professor when I was 19 who was doing research on chemical compounds with potential anti-cancer properties, and I loved it,” Rivera says. “I loved reading biomedical journals to grow my knowledge.”  

Rivera says this professor was her inspiration for pursuing science. 

“I had never thought I was smart enough to do science, but she reassured me that I had what it takes,” Rivera says. “She showed me I could be resilient.” 

Rivera’s resiliency grew in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, a deadly Category 5 hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico and is widely described as the worst natural disaster in the island’s history.  

“Things were really bad after the hurricane. We didn’t have power for five months, and we didn’t even have a generator for several of those months,” Rivera says. “Studying was really hard at this point because not only was it dark, it was also really hot.” 

But even through this, Rivera continued her education. 

“Part of the reason I persevered is that I had no other choice. You either got through it, or you didn’t,” Rivera says. “My sister and I figured out how to continue to learn, even without any resources around us, because I never believed that dropping out was an option.” 

Destructive earthquakes and the pandemic followed Hurricane Maria, but Rivera continued on her path to pursuing a doctorate. Her efforts paid off, and she was accepted into the Biomedical Science PhD program in the Carver College of Medicine.  

Rivera initially applied to Iowa because the program did not require her to pay for a TOEFL [Test of English as a Second Language] exam as a bilingual student, but her interest grew after visiting campus. 

“I’m excited to be at Iowa because of the program’s reputation and because of how friendly everyone has been,” Rivera says. 

She wants to explore her initial interest in cancer biology research with Iowa’s opportunity to do rotations in the hospital, and she also wants to explore molecular medicine research.  

“Cancer and cancer treatment can be really brutal, and I’m interested in doing research that helps find treatments that have less of a negative impact on a patient’s life,” she says.  

Rivera says that her passion for learning and her resilience have made her feel well prepared to start her journey at Iowa. 

“Sometimes I think that nothing is going to be worse than the recovery [from Hurricane Maria], and with that, I’m even excited to experience winter for the first time!” she says.