Nicholas Acuna

Nicholas Acuna used to suppress his culture growing up.

But Acuna’s Peruvian heritage broke through and shines ever so brightly today, represented by the Llama artifact that sits on his desk to help him reconnect to his parents’ native land and reinforce his drive to reduce health disparities among Latinos.

Acuna, a native of Bloomfield, N.J., is already gaining great research experience in promoting smoking cessation and other areas.

While currently a master’s of public health candidate studying epidemiology at Rutgers University, Acuna is also involved in research to increase quit-smoking rates among correctional populations. He also helped research plant genetics, as well as mental health among older adults.

To further her experience and education, Acuna applied for the Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training program.

The Éxito! program, led by Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez at UT Health San Antonio with support from the National Cancer Institute, recruits 25 master’s-level students and professionals each year for a five-day summer institute, optional internships, and ongoing networking and support to promote doctoral degrees and careers in Latino cancer. A recent study found significant increases in summer institute participants’ confidence to apply to a doctoral program and academic self-efficacy.

“The [Éxito!] summer institute provided me with future colleagues and friends that I know I can rely on and push since we all want to see each other succeed. I feel confident that I can get into a PhD program,” Acuna said. “To be honest, this was the first time I felt comfortable in a space with other individuals like myself.”

Acuna hopes to pursue a doctoral degree in molecular epidemiology.

To future Éxito! participants, he has this advice:

Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. There is so much support amongst your cohort and the Éxito! staff.”