LUMBERTON — Iliana Claudio has always been known to take the road less traveled, and as Robert Frost once wrote in a famous poem, that has made all the difference.
Throughout her life, Claudio has chosen paths less taken in her quest for knowledge and understanding, so she could push past the status quo to get ahead and to achieve her dreams.
“I have always been encouraged to ask questions,” Iliana said. “I have a natural curiosity, so I want to know more and I want to get more answers. I realized that there is a career in asking big picture questions, the why behind the why. It’s like a cool chase to understand things more deeply. It’s just a lot of fun.”
That career she’s talking about? It’s known as a physician’s scientist. It’s a blend of research, medical science, and hard sciences — science that uses systematic observation, experiments, and sometimes mathematics to obtain knowledge.
“It’s not too much about treating patients, but you go through extensive training to get a wide knowledge base… to learn about the big picture,” she said.
Claudio, a resident of St. Pauls, started her college career in high school while attending Robeson Early College. This decision allowed her the opportunity to take classes at Robeson Community College and earn an associate of science and high school diploma at the same time.
“I knew my goal was to go to college, and I knew that I wanted to major in science,” Claudio said. “Attending the Early College made the most sense to get college credits that were free and to get ahead… I imagined myself being more challenged and having more opportunities to be engaged in harder material.”
Her first couple of college classes at RCC were CIS 110 – Introduction to Computers and ACA 111 – College Student Success.
“The transition wasn’t bad, the classes were introductory and it felt manageable,” Claudio said. “They were different from high school as far as the expectations of living up to a higher standard, but those classes boosted my confidence.”
In 2017, Claudio graduated from RCC and transferred to NC State. She completed her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry this spring and will complete another degree this summer in marine sciences.
“I felt prepared to transition to NC State, especially in the science field,” Claudio said. “I was pushed at RCC to get as close to my limit as possible.”
It was that attitude of continuing to push past her comfort zone that helped Claudio win a Fulbright Scholarship to study abroad, a major feat as only 20% of applicants are chosen for that program.
“I was really shocked,” said Claudio on being named as a recipient of the Fulbright Scholarship. “I was in a state of disbelief, and to the point of what does this mean, and I started making mental calculations about the next two years.”
Claudio plans to study at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California in Mexico.
“In the short-term, I’m going to get my master’s degree,” Claudio said. “Eventually, in the next 5 to 10 years, I hope to have my MD-PhD.”
Claudio also plans on joining the corps for Teach for America, something that she says is a way to give back.
“I had a lot of good mentors that supported me. Being in a position to help other students would be very rewarding for me,” she said.
She encourages others to pursue their academic goals.
“Listen to your intuition about what you want to do with your life,” Claudio said. “Take ownership of your education, try to challenge yourself so you can continue to grow in your knowledge-base.”
Claudio said she will continue to speak passionately about her time at Robeson Community College because it ultimately was the catalyst that inspired her to go after her dreams and has helped chart the course of her life.
“RCC was a very wonderful academic family, it was the bedrock that made me strive to be as much as I could and to accomplish as much as I have,” she said. “The instructors at RCC, they believe in you, they give you feedback and ways that you can get better. They really invest time in you.”