Determination and dedication are words that describe Marian Perez’s quest to achieve her lifelong dream of becoming a dentist.
Perez, a native of Havana, Cuba, will graduate from Fort Valley State University on May 13 with a Bachelor of Science degree in plant science biotechnology. In addition to being the first in her family to earn a college degree, she will do so as the valedictorian of FVSU’s class of 2023.
“Since I was a little girl, I always wanted to become a doctor and help other people,” said the future FVSU alumna.
After immigrating to the United States from Cuba in 2016, Perez attended school in Texas where she learned how to speak English and became a certified dental assistant. In 2020, she moved to Warner Robins, Georgia, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, completed her classes online.
Later that year, she began working at the Marable Dental Center under the watch of Dr. Lawrence Marable. “He noticed how much I loved my job and saw how determined I was to become a dentist. Since he went to Fort Valley State University, he recommended that I attend the school because it provided him with the tools needed to become a successful dentist,” Perez said.
In 2021, Marable suggested she should talk to Dr. Sarwan Dhir, professor of plant biotechnology. That same day, Perez visited FVSU to speak with Dhir. “He talked to me about the different programs at the university and the requirements needed for dental school, and I found plant science biotechnology to be very interesting. I had a great first impression because it was the first time an advisor took the time to help me make my dreams come true. That day I got home and applied to FVSU to become a Wildcat,” Perez said.
When it comes to extracurricular activities, Perez decided to take a pioneering approach. “I realized that FVSU didn’t have a pre-dental organization, so I decided to create the Fort Valley State University Pre-Dental Club,” she said.
As president of the organization, Perez coordinated meetings with students interested in the dental field. During the meetings, they discussed career possibilities and the requirements needed for dental school. The group also sponsored a donation drive for Jay’s Hope 4 Kids with Cancer and a dental workshop with another FVSU graduate, Dr. Ulysses Marable.
Additionally, Perez joined other organizations such as the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP), Minorities with Power and the Vet Tech Club. She is also a member of the biotechnology recruitment team and volunteers for the American Red Cross.
Describing her FVSU undergraduate experience, Perez said the university truly lives up to its motto of Empowering the Possible. “I had many professors at FVSU, and they all share their love for the students. They truly care for us and try to help us achieve our dreams. My experience at FVSU is preparing me for the future, and I am excited to start a new chapter in my life with all the knowledge gained at the university,” she said.
In addition to working in Dr. Dhir’s lab, Perez also interned last year at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida. At UCF, she conducted research, worked in the chemistry lab and made oral and poster presentations about her research.
Perez said that completing her academic journey at FVSU is a bittersweet experience. “I feel good because I am one step closer to making my dream come true. However, I am sad to leave my biotechnology family behind. Dr. Dhir was with me every step of the way, and he gave me encouragement and supported me every time I had a hard class or felt overwhelmed,” she said. “I was born and raised in Cuba, and when I came to the United States only seven years ago, I never imagined I would graduate with honors and be named class valedictorian,” she said.
FVSU’s latest biotechnology graduate also gives her department a ringing endorsement. She said she will advise students seeking a plant-biotechnology degree that they will get the best mentors and professors who will prepare them for the future.
“The attention they receive will be different from what they will receive at any other school. They will be taken care of as if they are members of a family,” Perez said.
The future dentist said her family is very proud of her accomplishment. Perez said she gets inspiration to pursue a medical career from her grandfather. “He always wanted to become a doctor, but he did not have the resources and had to give up on his dream. I always told him that I was going to become a doctor for him,” she said.
After graduation, Perez plans to attend dental school. For more information about the biotechnology program, visit ag.fvsu.edu.