Salsa music led Monica Maldonado to neuroscience. Breaking off from her tour of a science building as a freshman at the University of Texas at San Antonio, she followed the familiar sound to a research laboratory where she met the man who became her first mentor in the field.
She earned a doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Texas at Austin, where she worked in a laboratory studying Ischemic stroke and how the brain changes after damage.
Mexican-American and the daughter of a migrant farmer, Monica was raised on her father’s stories of dirt floors and picking in the fields as a 9-year-old. Both her parents successfully faced the pressure of being the first in their families to graduate from high school and college.
“I learned that mentoring was key,” she said. “You can have talent, you can be intelligent, you can have the drive even, but if you didn’t have that valuable mentorship to guide you along the way, to show you the ropes, to show you how to fill out an application, to remind you of the importance to pay attention to a certain thing, I don’t think I would have made it.”
Currently, Monica works as the Associate Director of Student Activities at Florida Atlantic University’s Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College. She is a director of various programs, but she is also a classroom instructor and mentor in the sciences. She helps aspiring medical professionals advance in their careers through internships and other professional development opportunities.
“A lot of our students are first generation,” she said. “So that’s been a great value to mentor students and ensure they will be successful.”
Phillip “PJ” Willis, has worked as an Investment Strategist at Suntrust Bank for 17 years. He is a CFA charterholder, which means he has studied investment tools, asset valuation and portfolio management.
The chartered financial analyst credential is the professional standard of choice for more than 31,000 investment firms worldwide, according to the CFA Institute, which administers the designation.
PJ brings his background in finance to El Sol’s board of directors and a desire to assist in strengthening the center’s fundraising efforts. He has already helped El Sol raise grant funding for participants in the center’s worker development program.
The grant funding allowed participants an opportunity to study with construction trade professionals at Palm Beach State College and earn a certification. “I think that is the best way for some of these workers to improve the quality of life, not only for themselves but for their family,” PJ said, ”and that also leads to the next generation.”
PJ has lived in Jupiter for more than 11 years. His wife has previously worked at El Sol as a Plazas Comunitarias instructor. He is grateful for the town’s high quality of life and for its school system. PJ and his wife have two daughters.