Student Star: Andrés Felipe Gil Arana

First-generation neuroscience student bridges gaps in global health

Name: Andrés Felipe Gil Arana
Major: Cell and Molecular Neuroscience
Graduation: Spring 2024
Hometown: Bogotá, Colombia
College: College of Arts & Sciences

“The unwavering care and support from FSU allowed me to persevere during my acculturation challenges.”

Fast Facts

  1. Favorite study spot: The balcony/garden at the King building
  2. Looking forward to...: Being featured in WFSU’s “Voices that Inspire”
  3. Salsa fusion: Taught salsa lessons in collaboration with FSU’s Corazón Dancers to connect people from diverse communities
  4. A proud moment: Was honored with the Karen L. Laughlin Scholars Award, which gives me the opportunity to embody Dean Laughlin’s unconquered spirit
  5. Making global connections: Spearheaded the first FAMU-FSU-Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH) multi-institutional research project

Andres Felipe Gil Arana, first-generation student from Bogotá, Colombia, arrived at Florida State University looking for community and guidance, and that’s exactly what he found. 

With the support of FSU’s Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE), Gil Arana has been able to focus on his passion for neuroscience, accessible health care and mentorship.  

In his first year, Gil Arana joined CARE’s Unconquered Scholars Program (USP), which provides students who experienced foster care, homelessness, relative care or ward of the State status with advocacy, security and mentorship to ensure academic success and long-term independence. The experience helped him establish a support system of peers who understood the obstacles of professional growth as an independent, first-generation student.  

In his junior year, Gil Arana served as the USP president.  

“Serving as the USP president is the most significant achievement of my undergraduate career,” Gil Arana said. “I gave back to the program that guided me to FSU and deepened my understanding of the agency I held as a leader from an underrepresented minority community.” 

After learning the importance of mentorship from the USP, Gil Arana chose to extend this knowledge to students of diverse backgrounds. He co-founded and serves as the Undergraduate Students Together Achieving Results (U-STAR) coordinator of the College of Medicine’s Undergraduate Science Students Together Reaching Instructional Diversity and Excellence (U-SSTRIDE) program, where he matches pre-health students with more knowledgeable students to increase their success.  

Gil Arana is also a part of the leadership team for Engage 100, an immersive program that teaches student instructors how to use FSU resources to lead first-year students to develop their academic and social goals. He also teaches classes for first-year students pursuing health careers to establish a concrete, undergraduate plan and mentors the program’s instructors.  

“There are no limits to what we can achieve when we have the right support system in place, regardless of our backgrounds or circumstances,” Gil Arana said.  

Throughout his research and clinical commitments, Gil Arana incorporates his personal experience and neuroscience knowledge to ensure the inclusion and care of diverse populations. As a certified clinical medical assistant at FSU Primary Care Clinic, Gil Arana plans free, monthly health literacy workshops and interprets treatment plans for Spanish-speaking students. 

Gil Arana serves as a mental health team manager for the College of Medicine’s Global Health Collaboration Project (GHCP), overseeing global research operations in Honduras and connecting Honduran health care professionals in rural and urban areas. Furthermore, his IDEA grant has allowed him to collaborate with doctors, medical students and the Honduran science ministry to assess adverse childhood experiences among Honduran university students. 

“Listening attentively to the population’s needs and perspectives is paramount when devising effective strategies for helping them,” Gil Arana said. “These experiences have motivated me to pursue a doctorate in population health.” 

How has your experience as an independent, first-generation college student shaped your approach to leadership positions?

My life is a testament to the transformative power of mentorship. One of the most rewarding aspects of my journey has been the opportunity to put this belief forward by mentoring students from diverse backgrounds. There are no limits to what we can achieve when we have the right support, regardless of our backgrounds or circumstances. Being a first-generation student has given me a unique perspective on leadership. Actively listening to students is vital in helping them identify areas of improvement in their college experience. First-generation students carry the particular challenge of venturing into uncharted territory. However, this journey can also be enriched with guidance and support. We can create a brighter future for ourselves and pave the path toward generational wealth and success for our families and communities. 

In what ways have you promoted diversity and inclusion in your community, and how will you continue those efforts after graduation?

Recognizing and addressing student-specific needs is essential to fostering an environment where minority students feel genuinely supported and understood. Through my current fellowship with the Florida College Access Network (FCAN), I’m devising an advocacy campaign representing the USP during key advocacy sessions at the state capitol. I aim to bridge the gaps that underrepresented individuals face concerning the social determinants of health, specifically access to education, to prevent future students from enduring the adversity and struggle that has persisted for many generations. As I approach graduation, my vision for the future revolves around exploring the intricate relationship between non-communicable diseases and invisible health barriers. I will center my graduate studies on health care diversity and inclusion to drive positive population health outcomes for globally underrepresented groups. 

You’re involved in multiple student organizations, such as USSTRIDE and USP. How do your experiences outside the classroom synthesize with your pre-health curriculum?

In class, I learned that social determinants of health encompass a wide array of factors that shape the well-being of entire populations. Among these factors, access to education and health care are pivotal contributors to community well-being. My commitment has been deeply rooted in these principles. Collaborating with leaders in the College of Medicine through U-SSTRIDE and my role as a medical assistant and interpreter at the primary care clinic gave me a firsthand understanding of the importance of holistic care. My extracurricular activities instilled in me the importance of listening to diverse populations’ needs and the multidisciplinary collaboration necessary to achieve comprehensive and sustainable wellness. It was the experiential learning I needed to complement what I learned in the classroom. I will use these experiences to advocate for holistic well-being and equity in the health care and education fields. 

What does your experience at Florida State mean to you?

FSU has proved instrumental in my journey as an independent, first-generation student in the U.S. The unwavering care and support from FSU allowed me to persevere during my acculturation. The mentors I found at FSU played a pivotal role in this transformation. Now, with the experiences and opportunities that FSU has provided me, I am determined to pay it forward. I aspire to guide and support those who come after me, so they do not have to navigate the same adversities or encounter the same pitfalls that I did. I sincerely thank FSU and the CARE program for recognizing and nurturing my potential. Additionally, I am deeply grateful to the Unconquered Scholars Program for providing me with a sense of belonging and serving as my extended family throughout my FSU experience.