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When Candice Powell, director of the Carolina Covenant, says, “Each and every Covenant Scholar is an asset to our institution — not in spite of where they come from but because of where they come from,” she likely has students like Maria Tiznado ’22 in mind.

Maria, a first-generation college student from Burlington, North Carolina, graduated at the top of her high school class with multiple achievements. She was a member of five honors societies and was one of only two recipients of the Alamance-Burlington School System Superintendent’s Award of Excellence. She also contributed more than 1,400 hours of community service before graduating high school.

When Maria learned she had been awarded the Carolina Covenant and James M. Johnston scholarships, she and her family were thrilled and relieved, knowing that she would be able to attend a world-class University and graduate debt-free. In return, Maria brings her perspective, skills and knowledge to Carolina and the broader community — even to communities as far away as Uganda.

“What I have learned as a Carolina student and Carolina Covenant Scholar is that where I came from is not indicative of where I will go,” said Maria. “The concept of higher education used to seem impossible — yet here I am! I’ll never forget that moment when I learned I had been selected for these scholarships, and I will forever be thankful.”

Now a junior and Honors Carolina student pursuing a path toward medical school, Maria credits a first-year humanities class as one of the most influential courses she’s taken at Carolina.

“I learned more about the disparities that exist in our country and was able to explore my Mexican-American identity more than I had been able to the previous 18 years of my life. So much more than science has to do with our health. I now recommend this class to everyone, and I will never forget the knowledge I gained while taking it.”

The sociology course focused on race and ethnicity inspired Maria to switch from a major in biology to an interdisciplinary major in social determinants of health studies, alongside minors in chemistry and medicine, literature and culture. In her studies, she investigates the disparities in health care and the social determinants that affect a person’s health, both of which she experienced firsthand growing up in a Spanish-speaking household.

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She is exploring these subjects outside of the classroom, as well. She serves as the co-president of a chartered organization at Carolina called the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC), which provides medical services and education to women and children in need around the world. Maria applied for and received a summer internship grant to visit an FIMRC site in Uganda. She spent several months there, strengthening her clinical skills while assisting underserved communities.

“I not only strengthened my clinical skills by working alongside physicians, nurses and other important health care providers, I was also able to prove to myself that medicine was indeed what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing,” said Maria. “I am now able to take those skills that I gained abroad and apply them on a local scale, where I can continue to advocate and help underserved members of the Chapel Hill community.”

As a Bilingual Navigator within UNC Children’s Hospital, Maria has done just that. Through this position, she is able to use her fluency in Spanish to help non-English speaking families, much like her own, increase their access to health care opportunities. Maria also supports the Carolina community as a volunteer for the Carolina for the Kids Foundation and as a member of the North Carolina Health Careers Club.

Looking to the future, Maria plans to take a gap year to continue exploring the health care systems of other countries before returning to the United States for medical school. She is confident that her background, combined with her experiences at Carolina — made possible by the Carolina Covenant and Johnston Scholarship — will provide a strong foundation for her career as a physician serving underrepresented communities.

Above all, Maria said she works hard in college — not to secure a well-paying job as a physician — but to honor the sacrifices her parents have made for her.

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