The boundless medical quest of Adan Cordova

UW-Green Bay Human Biology major Adan Cordova works out chemistry formulas. Photos by Dan Moore, University Photographer

From Honduras to UW-Green Bay, nothing can stop Cordova’s fearless dream of becoming a physician

For many aspiring students dreaming of a career as a physician, the challenging pre-requisite of chemistry often stands as a formidable obstacle. The concepts are intricate, the mathematics demanding, and the volume of information can be daunting. However, for Adan Cordova, chemistry wasn’t a worthy adversary.

“I excelled in chemistry,” he proudly states. So, which courses tested Cordova’s mettle? “The most challenging for me were genetics and academic English.”

The Honduras native always knew he wanted to become a doctor even before he fell in love with learning. Pursuing a degree in Human Biology with an emphasis on Health Science at UW-Green Bay is challenging even for students on a “traditional” path. For Cordova, the journey resembled scaling a steep mountain. Not only is he a non-traditional full-time student and a Certified Nursing Assistant, but he’s also a father of three and a partner to his fiancé, who also balances school and a job.

A little over a decade ago, Cordova lived in Honduras, working various jobs in manual labor and speaking minimal English. “Life in Honduras was tough,” he recalls. “My mother, raising three children on her own, worked from home during the day and attended university at night to study economics.” He fondly remembers aiding his mother in making tortillas and preparing meals that she sold from their home. Her signature dish was “pollo chuco” –grilled chicken seasoned with spices, garlic, and citrus, accompanied by pickled onions and crispy plantains.

His parents had separated, and his father had moved to Green Bay in 2010. Around the age of 16 or 17 Cordova received a phone call from his father offering him a chance to relocate. “He called and said, ‘I have the paperwork ready. Do you want to come?’”

In the U.S., Cordova saw an opportunity for a fresh start. While he enjoyed a significant family network in Green Bay, his job prospects seemed limited to manual labor. His mother’s efforts back in Honduras remained his guiding light. “I wanted more than factory work. I saw my mother juggling her responsibilities and pursuing her education. I wanted that for myself.”

When he shared his plans to return to school, many were skeptical. “My friends and coworkers said I was too old and should focus on my family. They suggested I work extra hours if I needed more money.”

But Cordova’s goals transcended short-term financial gains. He was resolved to reach higher, to pursue his passion. He began his academic journey by taking English classes at a technical college. Excelling in English, he enrolled in a medical assistant program. His aspirations for higher education were set in motion. But what drew him to medicine?

“When I was a kid, I wanted to help people,” Cordova begins, “but I found out when I was a teenager that I’m amazed how the human body is. I love everything that has to do with the human body. And then I learned about the mind and how important the brain is, and I fell in love with that.”

“This might sound odd, but I’ve always been fascinated by psychiatry and plastic surgery.”

With his sights on medical school, he understood that earning a Bachelor of Science was his next crucial endeavor. This led him to UW-Green Bay in in the fall of 2021, where he faced his fear of not fitting in, found exceptional support, and has been on an upward trajectory ever since.

Professors quickly noticed Cordova’s dedication. “He is an exemplary student,” remarks Uwe Pott, an associate professor in Human Biology who instructed Cordova in genetics. “From the outset, it was clear he was committed to excellence.”

Cordova’s tenacity and focus set him apart, not just in exams, but in lab work and group discussions. Professor Pott observes, “It’s a joy to teach someone so invested in understanding every detail, not just memorizing for a test.”

His academic momentum continues as he currently delves into courses like organic chemistry, biochemistry, cell biology, and on top of that, a demanding genetics lab.

“In human immunology class, I became passionate about how our body responds to infection,” he said. “Either a bacterial or a virus. Learning how the body reacts and how it will respond.”

The next milestone for Cordova is preparing for the Medical College Application Test (MCAT)–a pivotal step for his medical school aspirations. The journey ahead includes applications, essays, and letters of recommendation. For now, Cordova wants to savor his current achievements. “I plan to take a gap year to spend time with my family.”

As for his future beyond medical school, Cordova, grounded in science, also relies on his faith and profound interests. He’s drawn to drawn to psychiatry but has not ruled out plastic surgery or even family medicine. As he continues to explore, he remains open to possibilities and is willing to consult with even higher authority, “I’ll let God lead the way and make my decision when I’m in med school.”

What unexpected lessons has life taught you?

Life is full of surprises. I’ve always known that if you work hard and put in the dedication for your dreams they can come true. What I didn’t know was how much you had to believe in yourself to also make your dreams come true.

When I started my higher education journey I had so many doubts, fears, and insecurities about returning to school. As a non-traditional college student whose first language is Spanish and not English, aging into their 30s and having three kids at home to take care of I felt that I did not belong in college much less in medical school. Even though I worked extremely hard for good grades and exams scores I continued to feel displaced and undeserving of my merits.

It wasn’t only until recently that I finally grasped what everyone has been telling me since the day I first arrived at UWGB, I belong here and more importantly, I am deserving of all the good things I have worked hard for. Upon realizing this life lesson, I came to the realization that believing is an important part of making your dreams come true because the only person that can stop you from achieving your goals is you.

Once you begin to believe in yourself, that you are capable, and that you deserve your dream, achieving it becomes slightly less hard and even more promising. Also, I learned to ask for help and that I do not have to do it by myself. I would not be here if it was not for the people who helped me.

What’s your spark?

My family is my spark, especially my fiancé, mother, and sister. They’ve been my pillar of strength. Even my children, though they might not realize it, give me the motivation to push forward. When my first son was born and I held him in my arms, it hit me hard – I’m a father. This realization was profound.

How has education ignited your personal growth?

Coming from a different culture, my education here has broadened my horizons. I’ve become more accepting and non-judgmental of others. I’ve also learned that life doesn’t have just one path. If one way doesn’t work out, there are other avenues to explore.

Watch Adan talk about his experience as a First Generation student at UW-Green Bay.

At UW-Green Bay, every person has the power to Rise. No matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you want to be. Rise Stories feature people from all walks of life who are blazing a brighter future for our region.

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