Part of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s mission statement is to serve “as an intellectual catalyst for economic, social, and cultural transformation.” Diego Marroquin, a senior biology major in the College of Arts and Sciences, lives that mission every day, and is himself driving positive transformations both in his hometown and the SouthCoast.
An immigrant from Guatemala and first-generation college student, Marroquin has faced his share of challenges since moving to the United States nine years ago. Despite this, he has always held a strong desire to help others, making him a valuable resource to his communities.
“I have always had a passion for creating a change in my community,” said Marroquin. “My mother always taught my brothers and I to help others whenever we have the opportunity, and for this reason, I do not see volunteering as something I have to do; I see it as something I want to do.”
Marroquin has been involved in numerous volunteering projects over his last four years, both in the SouthCoast and in his hometown of Lawrence, MA. He is an active member of the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement on campus, Gifts to Give in Acushnet, MA, and the Cor Unum Meal Center in Lawrence, MA.
“A project I especially enjoy while in the Dartmouth area is volunteering as a tutor and mentor at the Gomes Elementary School in New Bedford, MA,” said Marroquin. “Eighty five percent of students at the Gomes School were born abroad, and the school has among the highest rates of impoverished, disabled, and non-English speaking students in Massachusetts.
“I can relate to the struggles they face, which inspires me to help them overcome their challenges and act as a positive role model. It’s important for them to see someone they can relate to succeed, and knowing I play a role in aiding their development is a feeling like no other. I hope that they are likewise inspired to help future generations when they have the opportunity.”
To aid in making students at the Gomes Elementary School feel more comfortable with each other and in themselves, Marroquin created a seven-week program that asked fifth grade students to discuss different cultures and how their heritage shapes who they are.
“Initially the students were shy, but as the program went on kids began to open up and started explaining their cultures to one another with pride,” said Marroquin. “It culminated with the painting of a world map and a quote that reads: ‘Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.’ The love and feedback I received was so fulfilling.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Marroquin also served as a mentor to eight students at the Trinity Day Academy in New Bedford, an alternative school for children with social, cognitive, or emotional disorders.
“My mentees at Trinity struggled with basic social skills such as making eye contact during conversation,” said Marroquin. “We would hold weekly meetings using games, crafts, and field trips to develop these skills, such as staring contests. Turning a social skill into a game helped students feel more comfortable, and more often than not, they beat me in the contest.
“I also took my mentees on a field trip through UMass Dartmouth. They were amazed by our 150-seat lecture halls, labs, and other facilities. While we ate in the cafeteria, without being prompted to, they began to discuss the importance of a college education and what they might want to study when they went to college themselves. I hope that experience served as a catalyst for them to pursue a college education and make their dreams come true.”
While at home, Marroquin became a frequent volunteer waiting tables and cooking meals for the Cor Unum Meal Center in Lawrence, MA, which distributes free meals to homeless and impoverished people. After six months of volunteering at Cor Unum, Marroquin was hired to an increased role in December 2017, running administrative tasks and coordinating new volunteers.
“Volunteering at Cor Unum has given me the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life,” said Marroquin. “Hearing their stories has taught me not to think about what I want, but what I have, and to use what I have to help others in need.”
As busy as he is helping others, Marroquin has consistently made time for his own success as well, holding a 3.92 grade point average and making the Chancellor’s list (3.8 GPA or higher) each of his last five semesters.
“Making the Chancellor’s list, to me, is proof that hard work pays off. I am the first person in my family to go to college, and I see my academic success as a way to thank all the people who made sacrifices to give me the opportunity for a college education,” said Marroquin. “To succeed at UMassD, I have come to discover that it doesn't matter where you come from, the language you speak, the color of your skin, or how much wealth your family has. It matters how much you are willing to work for your dreams and keep moving forward.”
Marroquin has always held a passion for understanding how things work in nature, and will dive deeper into this passion when he attends Medical School after his early graduation next month.
“My biology professors and advisors have always been eager to help and answer questions I have in or outside of the classroom,” said Marroquin. “I feel exceptionally well-prepared to pursue a medical education thanks to the layout of the biology program. It aligns almost perfectly with the requirements for most medical schools, which will save me time and money as I can avoid taking pre-required courses.”
Marroquin has helped many others physically, socially, and academically over the last four years, and he has no plans to stop. The senior is currently applying to medical schools around the country, where again his motivation is to help others.
“Within a month of moving to the United States I had two seizures. Seeing my MRI at the doctor’s visits that followed sparked my interest in medicine,” said Marroquin. “Sometime later, my younger brother also had two seizures, which really pushed me to investigate neurological disorders. To my surprise, I discovered a racial disparity exists in neurological health care due to cultural barriers and social determinants of health.
“Minorities have a lower life expectancy, quality of life, and less access to health care. This is something I want to change. One of my objectives as an aspiring physician is to reduce the health disparities in medicine by representing my voice in the medical field and improving the health quality and outcomes in my community.”
Advice on volunteering
“When looking to volunteer in your community, don’t sign up for something to fill out your résumé. Sign up for an issue you’re passionate about. You don’t need to put too much on your plate. Focus on two or three activities and commit to making an impact for them.
“I like the Leduc Center at UMass Dartmouth because it can be a starting point for anyone who wishes to volunteer, but may not know where to start. The Leduc Center can connect students to a variety of opportunities on or off-campus in a variety of fields and interests. All you need to do is show up and you’ll be pointed in the right direction.”