Nursing Graduate Earns Full Scholarship to Top-Ranked Ph.D. Program

Dual-degree holder hopes to pave the way for other first-generation students

Enmanuel “Manny” Fernandez has never been a stranger to challenges. Having immigrated to Union County, N.J., from the Dominican Republic when he was only nine months old, he was plagued by self-doubt throughout his educational journey, and he struggled with his sense of belonging. As he graduates from the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden with a dual bachelor of science degree in nursing and health sciences, he plans to enter one the best Ph.D. programs in the country this fall.

“When we first came to this country, we came with nothing,” Fernandez said. “I lived under these metaphorical shadows that clouded my motivation to succeed, and I spent many nights wondering if I even had a future to begin with. Those bouts of struggle have turned into confidence as I have become more successful."

Fernandez said his journey to graduate with a dual bachelor of science degree in nursing and health sciences was full of setbacks. The first in his family to attend the college, he did not have anyone to turn to with questions about registering for classes, financial aid, or extracurricular activities.

As he navigated the complexities of college life, Fernandez said the connections he made at Rutgers–Camden were paramount to his success. He credits mentors across the School of Nursing and the College of Arts and Sciences for providing academic support, answering his questions, and advocating for him every step of the way. When he grew interested in research, several faculty members guided him in designing and executing independent studies focused on health equity.

“My professors helped me improve my scholarly writing and gave me skills as a researcher,” Fernandez said. “Those amazing individuals are the reasons why I pursued a Ph.D.”

This fall, Fernandez will pursue his doctorate in nursing at the University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship. There, he plans to expand his portfolio of research investigating how mobile health apps will decrease the rate of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the United States. He is passionate about increasing access to STI care and education while reducing associated stigmas.

Fernandez’s long-term goal is to bridge his passion for health equity with his leadership skills to work in a higher-education role that will open doors for other first-generation students.

“I am grateful to be where I am today. This whole journey couldn’t be possible without the support I have received here at Rutgers–Camden, where first-generation students thrive. I know it is my destiny to fight for people who remain voiceless, and to open the doors that were opened for me.”

Design: Karaamat Abdullah