Aaron Carrillo finds his passion in the Heart of KU and explores Asia through two internships

Aaron Carrillo, Major: Microbiology Pre-Medicine

Preferred Name: Everyone calls me A-A-Ron, but Aaron works too!

Major(s) & Minor(s): I’m not going to lie, I’ve been jumping around in the Biology field quite a bit, but I’m currently majoring in microbiology pre-medicine.

Where are you from? And why did you choose to come to KU?

I’m from El Paso, Texas originally, but as a child we moved quite a bit and settled in Newton, Kansas. My mother wanted me to stay in state and study Engineering. KU had all of those and the distance from home made it the best fit.

Tell us about the internships you did in Vietnam using the Gilman Scholarship. What organization(s) did you work for? What were your responsibilities? What was your favorite part(s) of the internship? And what did you gain from that experience that will be valuable to you in the future?

My internship abroad started in September of my freshman year. I was looking for opportunities to go to Asia, and really wanted to go to Vietnam, where I have family on my mother’s side. I have to say, if you want to study abroad anywhere and you have the drive to do it alone, Student Initiated Programs are for you. It didn’t exactly come with the freedom that I was looking for but it allowed me to see the world from an outside perspective and truly see what it means to be not only Hispanic, but also Vietnamese-American.

I also wanted to have a lot of first experiences. I went from never being a passenger in a plane, to flying San Francisco, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, San Francisco, and finally back. I saw the Ocean for the first time in person in Vũng Tàu, Vietnam and, though at first I was nauseous from watching the waves, my first words getting into the warm water was “Wow, it really is salty.”

It was also the first time I worked with two non-profit organizations. Smile Group is basically Big Brother, Big Sisters, but focused on providing a space for students, aged between 3 and 18, to hang-out, cook, eat, and nap away the hot day. I taught a simple programming class with the use of a LEGO Mindstorm kit.

The second internship I took on was with Friends for Street Children. This really changed my worldview of what poor really is. Undocumented children do not have the ability to use the free education, healthcare, and are not recognized as citizens in Vietnam – they do not have the resources to buy their birth certificate, they often have no education, and they are limited in terms of movement around the country. My internship involved finding funding to run a school for undocumented children in Ho Chi Minh. It was 40 hours a week, with classes during the week, and I was still able to really experience Ho Chi Minh.

As a pre-medical student, the coursework revolving around public health also tied into my internships and seeing how government policy is related to disparities in health and wealth. I also was pushed in ways of working through a language barrier and the broken conversations I had are some of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had.

Why did you choose your major(s)? Was there a moment when you decided this is what you wanted to study? What was that journey like?

This journey of finding my major was riddled with worries of losing scholarships (I did lose and gain thousands), disappointing those who helped me in getting to college, and really finding what I wanted to do. The turning point for me in deciding I wanted to be a physician started with an obsession with taking things apart and putting them back together. I combined that with my love for helping people. I considered pursuing a BS in Mechanical Engineering and also going down the pre-med path, but I realized I really had to choose between the two. It hit me that I wanted more interaction with people, and to understand how the body worked, so studying biology and taking the pre-medicine path was a great option for me.

Give a shout-out to a professor, academic advisor or some else at KU who has been influential for you:

Patty Fugett has to be at the top of this list. She has supported me during the highs and lows of my rollercoaster ride. She hugged me when I received one of the most competitive scholarships and has helped me learn from lessons when I overloaded my plate. Amea Chandler also deserves a shout out. As my advisor for liberal arts and sciences, Amea has been a light, always there to encourage me and tell me that my GPA will get better, I will get into medical school, and that any limitations or fears are in my head.

What has been your favorite class at KU? And why?

I am a huge believer that any course can be the best if it fits two criteria. First, you have to have an interest in the material. Second, it’s taught by a teacher that knows how to relate to students and is passionate about their material.

That being said, KU has a fair share of such professors, which leads to my favorite course and professor: Human Dissection – the course was not like any other I had taken before. Jackie Garcia, the GTA, was able to motivate the group three times a week for two hour classes at 8am. While Dr. Gonzalez’s material and jokes managed to actually keep me in the lab. I now am a teaching assistant for both human dissection and human anatomy observatory lab.

What motivates you?

I have been given opportunities for many “firsts.” The ability to be who I want to be, choose my passions, and fall on my face when I put too much on my plate. My motivation comes from the drive to do better than in my past, to explore the unexplored, and to help people for the rest of my life.

Tell us a bit about your work with RESULTS. How did you get involved? What do you do for RESULTS?

RESULTS is a nonpartisan international organization that aims to end poverty by engaging in political dialogue with state and federal representatives. A chapter was already started at Kansas State University and my partner, co-leader Cameron Smith, brought the idea to my attention and a group began to form.

What do you want to do when you graduate?

I want to further my education, and at this point that is going through medical school. For me, this encompasses also looking at opportunities for using advocacy for those who, like myself, did not have the means to have access to a primary physician or an ambulance in cases of emergency.

Be like Aaron. Find your passion and seek out opportunities to make a difference, near and far. For more info, check out Pre-Medicine at the University of Kansas, Friends for Street Children, Smile Group, and RESULTS.