June 3, 2003 - The San Diego Union-Tribune: Carolina Valder, married to Ecuador RPCV, takes education seriously

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ecuador: Peace Corps Ecuador : The Peace Corps in Ecuador: June 3, 2003 - The San Diego Union-Tribune: Carolina Valder, married to Ecuador RPCV, takes education seriously

By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 - 1:41 pm: Edit Post

Carolina Valder, married to Ecuador RPCV, takes education seriously





Read and comment on this story from The San Diego Union-Tribune on Carolina Valder who earns her master's degree this month in chemistry and biochemistry from the University of California San Diego medical school. "She's a brilliant young scientist," said Robert Hecht-Nielsen, a longtime UCSD professor of computational neurobiology. "Someday she'll sink her teeth into some area of leadership and make a contribution to the world."

In 1990, she was a high school senior in her native Guayaquil, Ecuador. One night, when she and her girlfriends went dancing at a disco there, Matthew Valder, a Peace Corps volunteer, asked her to dance. The dance led to dating. Months later, they conceived a child. In Phoenix, her husband earned a master's degree in international management. The couple moved to Puerto Rico, then El Paso, where they had their second child, Johann. "I haven't been back home for six years. It's tough that my children have to grow up without their cousins and uncles and aunts. But I don't know if I would've had a chance to study science in Ecuador. Things happen for a reason." Read the story at:


Immigrant takes education seriously, one day at a time*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.



Immigrant takes education seriously, one day at a time

By Gil Griffin
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

June 3, 2003


HOWARD LIPIN / Union-Tribune
Carolina Valder prepares an experiment in a UCSD lab.
To reach academic success, Carolina Valder didn't drive the fast lane.

"I took the scenic route," she quipped. "Back then, I was a teenage mom. I was married. Then I went to a place I didn't know and had to learn a language I didn't know very well."

This month, Valder, 30, earns her master's degree in chemistry and biochemistry from the University of California San Diego medical school. She envisions donning her cap and gown, with her 13-year-old daughter, Melissa, her 9-year-old son, Johann, her sweetheart of the last five years, Marcus Hecht-Nielsen, and her mentors cheering her on.

"She's a brilliant young scientist," said Robert Hecht-Nielsen, a longtime UCSD professor of computational neurobiology, and Marcus' father. "Someday she'll sink her teeth into some area of leadership and make a contribution to the world."

But Valder says she never likes to plan too far ahead.

"Things happen, either big or small," said Valder, who lives with her children and Hecht-Nielsen in Tierrasanta. "I take life a day at a time."


HOWARD LIPIN / Union-Tribune
For Valder, receiving a master's degree from UCSD is a milestone, an unusual journey that started in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
Culture shock

The first big thing happened when she was 16.

She was then Carolina Pazmiño, a high school senior in her native Guayaquil, Ecuador. One night, when she and her girlfriends went dancing at a disco there, Matthew Valder, a Peace Corps volunteer, asked her to dance.

The dance led to dating. Months later, they conceived a child.

"My mom was totally devastated," Valder recalled, sitting at a patio table at the UCSD Medical Center, overlooking Mission Valley. "When my dad found out, he just came into my room, gave me a hug and told me he would help me."

Her parents father, Jorge, a dentist, and mother, Rebeca, a Colombian-born, social worker-turned-homemaker, arranged a wedding.

On Jan. 8, 1990, she gave birth to her daughter, Melissa. The next week, she took her final exams.

"I didn't have any plans," Valder said. "I really didn't get good grades in high school. And I was terrified of math. I thought about being a bilingual secretary."

Instead, the young family left Guayaquil, the muggy and bustling port city, for Phoenix, where Matthew worked toward his master's degree.

"It was a shock," said Valder, who is short and slim, with a bright smile and long, frizzy, brown hair.

"I was leaving and I was scared. I missed my family horribly. I gasped when I got out of the airport, because the air was so hot and dry. It was like an out-of-body experience."

In Phoenix, her husband earned a master's degree in international management. The couple moved to Puerto Rico, then El Paso, where they had their second child, Johann. But Valder still felt out of place.

Balancing act
When the couple moved to San Diego in 1996, another big thing happened: Valder signed up for a Chemistry 101 class at Palomar College in San Marcos.

"I don't know why I fell in love with it, but I did," Valder said, smiling brightly.

"I learned about atoms and DNA. The labs interested me. I liked the practical side of science and being able to write down the results on paper. I started sitting in the front row and became an A student."

She aced the math tests that used to terrify her. But Matthew and Carolina divorced, agreeing to share custody of their two children.

Valder balanced motherhood with being a full-time student at Palomar and at MiraCosta College.

"I treated school like it was a job," Valder said.

"As the children got older, they understood more about what I was doing. Some of the classes were tough, and I'd have to stay up until 2 in the morning."

During an organic chemistry class at MiraCosta, Valder befriended a fellow student, Marcus Hecht-Nielsen. It blossomed into a romance. Then she met his father, Robert Hecht-Nielsen, the UCSD professor.

"I could tell she was a very lively intellect," he said. "She had a very unusual interest in science and an exceptional amount of knowledge. I'm not sure if even she knew that."

Front-row seat
At Robert Hecht-Nielsen's suggestion, Valder applied and was admitted to UCSD to finish her undergraduate work.

"She was always in the front row, so I noticed her," said UCSD chemistry professor Katja Lindenberg, Valder's quantum mechanics and spectroscopy teacher.

Valder and Lindenberg bonded that semester, after the student discovered the teacher was a fellow Ecuadoran. They also share the same hometown and high school.

"She'd come in during my office hours and we'd talk about the city," Lindenberg said. "I'd ask her about her children. I thought it was amazing that she was a single mother in school and able to handle it."

Two years ago, Valder started her graduate work as a research assistant in the anesthesiology department of UCSD's medical school. Most of her research involves gene mutation and how drugs combat pain and diseases.

"I wanted to study something that could help people," Valder said.

Her supervisor, Dr. Z. David Luo, is impressed by her determination.

"I knew it wouldn't be easy for a student to have a difference in language and background," said Luo, who immigrated to the United States from China to earn his postgraduate degree.

"The culture and educational systems here were different. We needed to work much harder to reach the same level as our fellow students."

Valder, though, takes it all in stride.

She is considering working toward her Ph.D. and also is sending out resumes to biotech and biochemical companies. In her lab cubicle, her children's images smile down at her from her cork bulletin board.

Outside the lab, Valder reads books by her favorite author, Isabel Allende; takes kickboxing lessons; and goes out for palomilla (steak) and fried plantains at Andres, her favorite restaurant.

"The circumstances were not the best," Valder said, about the events that eventually brought her to San Diego.

"I haven't been back home for six years. It's tough that my children have to grow up without their cousins and uncles and aunts. But I don't know if I would've had a chance to study science in Ecuador. Things happen for a reason."

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By Samantha Kay York (tx-71-48-164-195.dyn.embarqhsd.net - 71.48.164.195) on Sunday, January 28, 2007 - 6:59 pm: Edit Post

Hey,

My name is Sam, I was reading through you're schools stuff, and it seems really interesting but i got a question? Do you have to drop out of highschool to come here, also how old do you have to be to come here?

Please get back to me.
sam


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