“It was a little bit scary... Not many people receive those scholarships at home so we didn’t really know what to expect.”
Daisy, Columbia University
Hometown: Verona, MO
Growing up in a family of seven, Daisy Fernandez (Columbia ’15) was accustomed to chaos. Though she was raised in a small, quiet, rural town in Missouri where “everyone lives on a farm”— including herself— her home often housed up to 10-13 people at a time, creating a loud and chaotic environment. Since her father also worked night shifts, her mother was often managing the household by herself, overwhelmed by many responsibilities. In the midst of it all, Daisy focused on doing well in school, without many expectations of what her future held in store.
Coming from an immigrant family without many educational opportunities— her father has only a 3rd grade education while her mother has a 6th grade education— Daisy was not expected to aim high in her own education. Her three older brothers all have GED or Associate degrees. One of her brothers showed good academic potential, but decided not to pursue a four-year college degree, deciding instead to get married and go straight to work. “In my town, it’s [Tyson] a huge company and pretty much employs everyone…Anyone who doesn’t go to college goes straight to the work force.”
Unlike many high-achieving students, Daisy didn’t grow up with role models who attended four-year colleges. “I didn’t have someone who went to get their bachelor’s far away, someone who I could rely on like, ‘ok, I want to follow their track and do what they did.’ I didn’t have that in my life.” From very early on, it was difficult for her mother to help her with her homework so, like many QuestBridge Scholars, Daisy had to learn how to achieve on her own.
One of Daisy’s high school teachers saw potential in her and pulled her aside, urging her to apply to scholarships and helping her with the college application process. “She was the one telling me: ‘you know you need extra-curriculars, you need leadership, you need to be out there.’”
“She was really influential. To be completely honest, I did not know of Columbia at all until QuestBridge and until she told me about it…Basically my teacher was the one who really pushed me to go through with it.”
Seeing a QuestBridge poster at her counselor’s office, Daisy and her teacher researched the QuestBridge website and despite not knowing anyone who went through the program, decided to apply.
Daisy didn’t always receive such universal encouragement. At home, her mother gave her mixed messages, both supporting her academic achievements but also encouraging her to stay close to home. Another teacher told her bluntly: “Brown wasn’t going to happen.” The fact was, very few students from her school went away to attend highly selective colleges.
“It was a little bit scary…Not many people receive those scholarships at home so we didn’t really know what to expect.” But Daisy knew what she didn’t want for herself: going directly into the workforce or having kids. She had her sights set on becoming doctor, but did not want to let the fear of the cost of college hold her back.
Ultimately Daisy was admitted to Columbia through Regular Decision and made her final decision based on money. Her family literally had no funds to fall back on. Columbia enabled her to graduate entirely debt-free.
While at Columbia, Daisy started doubting whether she could become a doctor, and instead decided to major in Hispanic Studies. “It was hard because my parents didn’t really know what I was going through… I really had to push myself.”
She began to gain a better understanding of her possible career path the summer before her senior year, when she found out about an internship in the Dominican Republic that had a focus on public health. “Even though I thought being a doctor might not be for me, I thought I could still do public health, although at the time I didn’t really know what public health was, or how it really differentiated from being a doctor.”
The program ended up being a wonderful intersection between her major, Hispanic Studies, and her original interest in the medical field. The hands-on experience that she gained during the internship reaffirmed her interest in healthcare. She spent a lot of time working directly with a pediatrician who took the time to explain what was happening and why. “I thought it was really great to actually see that first hand because I had never shadowed any doctors. I didn’t have anyone in my family that had been a doctor, I just knew that I wanted to do it. So after I got back from the Dominican Republic I realized that...I ultimately really wanted to be a doctor, particularly in Pediatrics.”
When Daisy returned to Columbia for her final year, she focused on her pre-med requirements, and upon graduation, got a job conducting research while she completed a post-baccalaureate. Currently enrolled in a Master’s of Public Health program at Emory University, Daisy has found a strong professional niche that combines her interest in supporting the Hispanic population with her drive to become a doctor. It hasn’t been an easy road, but she is confidentially moving forward and gaining significant on-the-ground experience.