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Joaquín Urdinez ’15G

When Fulbright scholar and Argentina native Joaquín Urdinez ’15G was considering US graduate schools with programs in the biological sciences, he found that St. John's University offered exactly what he wanted.

Last semester, he completed his master's degree in Biological and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology offered by the Institute for Biotechnology, graduating with a perfect GPA and receiving the Institute’s Certificate of Excellence. Through the program, he also obtained an internship at Symbiotic Health, a New York-based biotech company. "When I looked at various biotech programs,” Urdinez said, “St. John's was one of the few that involved an internship.”

Urdinez looked forward to the possibility of working at a biotech company while pursuing his master’s degree. “For biotech students,” he said, “that kind of practical, real-world experience is priceless. We like to study, but we want to give something back to society by applying what we know.”

Though he hails from a rural area of Argentina, Urdinez was undaunted by the move to New York. He had already experienced city life by traveling to Buenos Aires for his undergraduate education. "I left home when I was 17 and was 14 hours away by car, so the thought of being 12 hours away by plane didn't bother me," he noted, adding that his brother was also a Fulbright recipient who studied in the United States. "He used to tell me stories about how much he enjoyed the experience.”

Urdinez worked in the lab of Ivana Vancurova, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences, where he has conducted research on existing anti-cancer drugs with the aim of improving the therapies they provide. "I've made great friends here,” he said, “and so many people were willing to help me."

"In a world as highly competitive as ours making your first steps as a professional in the industrial sector can be extremely challenging, especially here in New York," Urdinez commented. "This program facilitates the bridge between students and potential employers from the biotech field, which is very valuable. It also gives the opportunity to students to expand their professional network by our participation in different seminars."

After earning his master's degree, Urdinez plans to “keep learning and growing as a scientist” by pursuing his doctorate in Europe and conducting applied research for a biotech firm. This fall, he will pursue his Ph.D. at ETH Zurich in Zurich, Switzerland. His eventual goal is to return to his home country and apply everything he has learned.

Recently, he was appointed a Fulbright Ambassador for the 25th Annual Fulbright Awards Dinner, held May 19 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. There, he greeted donors and discussed with them his Fulbright experience.

"Biotech involves new drugs, new therapies, and new ways to detect diseases,” he said. “We're using the genetic information in different cells and organisms to produce drugs in the most efficient, economical, and clean manner possible. The beauty of the field is its diversity: you can work in science, law, industry, and government. That's the whole aim of Fulbright—to learn useful things and make your home a better place."