Student Spotlight: Guillermo Penela

| Thu, 03/31/22
FSU neuroscience student Guillermo Penela.
FSU neuroscience student Guillermo Penela. Photo by Kendall Cooper.

Guillermo Penela is a junior pursuing a bachelor’s degree through the Program in Neuroscience, which is an interdisciplinary program with participation from Florida State University’s College of Medicine as well as the Department of Biological Science and Department of Psychology, both part of the College of Arts and Sciences. He is pursuing a double major in public health through FSU’s College of Social Sciences and Public Policy. He has also been an organic chemistry and general chemistry tutor at the Academic Center for Excellence since Fall 2021. After graduation, Penela plans to attend medical school in hopes of becoming a surgeon.

What year are you in school, and when do you expect to graduate?

I am a junior, and I plan to graduate in May 2023.

Tell us a little about your background, where you’re from and what brought you to FSU.

I was born in Venezuela, but my family moved to Pembroke Pines, Fla., when I was young. During my junior year of high school, college recruiters came to my school, and I was really intrigued by FSU. I liked everything FSU offered, and I liked that Tallahassee was just far enough away from home for me to feel independent. I also just love the community and atmosphere here on campus.

What inspired you to pursue a degree in neuroscience?

I was originally a biology major, but since high school, I’ve always had an interest in the brain and its anatomy. My favorite parts of biology-related classes were when we talked about the brain or the nervous system and everything else associated with it. So, when I saw that FSU offered a major in neuroscience, I transferred. I’m fascinated by what essentially makes us, us. During my junior year of high school, my grandfather passed away from heart failure, and going through that experience really solidified my desire to become a physician. I want to help people like my grandfather to hopefully get a better outcome.

What are some current goals or projects that you’re working on?

I plan on taking the medical college admissions test during the summer, and my ultimate goal is to do well enough on the MCAT to pursue medical school. While I am still open to studying other specialties, I would like to become a cardiovascular surgeon.

Tell us about your role as a campus tutor with the ACE center.

I started tutoring students in organic chemistry and general chemistry at FSU’s Academic Center for Excellence during Fall 2021. Professors have to get through so much material so quickly, but I have a full hour to spend with students explaining concepts that may not have been presented in depth during a class. What I usually try to do in my tutoring sessions is explain every single step and “the why” behind those steps. I also give students little tricks that I've found helpful along the way that their professor might not have mentioned. Through tutoring, I've also gained a better understanding of organic chemistry.

Tell me about your experience playing water polo at FSU.

I played water polo with the FSU Water Men’s Polo Club last fall as well as the fall of my freshman year. I’m taking a break from it now to focus more on my classes since my schedule this semester is a little more complicated than usual. After being a swimmer for three years in high school, my friend convinced me to join the water polo team during the spring of my senior year, and I loved it. It's kind of like football in the water, in a sense, because it’s physically rough. When I came to FSU and saw that we have a water polo club, I immediately wanted to join. We have participated in tournaments, like the one in the fall of 2019 hosted by the University Central Florida. We’ve also hosted tournaments here at FSU, and the whole experience has been very fun.

Are there any faculty or staff who have helped or inspired you?

Honors lecturer of chemistry and biochemistry Mark Kearley is someone who has been really inspiring to me. He has been my professor for organic chemistry one, organic chemistry two and biochemistry, which is unique since not many instructors teach all three of those courses. I've been very fortunate to have him as a professor consecutively, and I appreciate his knowledgeability and approachability. You can just tell that he wants you to succeed, and he is pretty much the reason why I love organic chemistry.

The teaching assistants that I’ve had in lab or in recitations for both chemistry and physics have been very helpful. There have been many times when I've tried to do an experiment, and something just goes wrong. Without any frustration, the TAs help you out. The same goes for general questions. They very obviously want to help you do the experiment correctly, and if you have any questions when writing your report, they offer guidance and support.

Following your graduation, what are your plans? Even though you might miss FSU, what are you looking forward to once you graduate?

Hopefully, I will be attending medical school, and eventually, I want to become a physician. That has been my goal since high school, and I have a particular interest in surgery. I started taking classes to better understand what goes into being a surgeon, and I just fell in love with it.

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