Brandon Mogrovejo describes himself as having been a child obsessed with anatomy. In first and second grade he gobbled up all the science magazines for children that he could get his hands on.
He has vivid memories of building a model of a heart for a science project in fourth grade.
“I was interested in all the organ systems, but especially in the heart,” he said. “I thought it was incredible.”
Straight through high school, his interest in biology grew, even though few of his peers shared his interest. His particular passion set him apart, as did other aspects of his identity.
Mogrovejo grew up in Yorktown Heights in Westchester County, where his classmates sometimes teased him about his biracial background: His father is from Ecuador and his mother is from Italy.
“In high school I started to reject any sort of difference and began to identify as white,” he said.
But, after he arrived at Fordham and took some required coursework, the layers of his assumed identity began to erode. Among his required core curriculum classes was one class, “Understanding Historical Change” with Bentley Anderson, SJ, associate professor of African and African-American Studies. The class changed his perception of American race issues.
Before taking the course, he said he was under the impression that most of America’s race issues were resolved after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As he gradually became more aware of systemic inequities, he decided he wanted to help underserved communities, particularly through healthcare. He declared African-American studies as a second major to biology.
After taking a course on the black prison experience, he sought out a job as a health education consultant at Rikers Island. There, he began working with inmates and teaching them about HIV and AIDS prevention. Although he deferred to his colleagues when it came to public health, he said he “owned the virology segment of the presentation.” He said the inmates already understood safe sex, but they didn’t know anything about the science.
“The inmates were extremely intelligent and wanted to learn how this deadly disease actually works,” he said. “With interest like that, they could all be potential virologists.”
At Rikers, Mogrovejo’s passion for merging biology and societal inequity developed more fully. Before working at the jail, he held an internship at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where he hoped to do research on diabetes, a disease that disproportionally affects poor people of color. Instead, he was assigned to work on Huntington’s disease.
While it wasn’t his first choice, his interest in the science grew.
He also participated in the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program at the Yale School of Medicine, where he received the Student Recognition Award for his dedication. At Fordham he co-founded the Minority Association for Pre-Health Students, which seeks to raise awareness about the lack of minority matriculation in health-related programs and to call attention to the health disparities within those communities.
“Diversity in medicine hasn’t changed since the 1970s,” he said.
He is now preparing to apply for medical school with guidance from Fordham’s Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP), which he said has helped him tremendously. He hopes to stay in the New York area to continue his work with underserved communities.
“Entering the field of medicine, there would be very few faces like mine. That motivates me. I want to change that. I want to increase diversity.”