Earning doctorate degrees in veterinary medicine and veterinary pathology are significant accomplishments, but they are underscored by the seemingly insurmountable challenges Dr. Alejandro Larios Mora has faced in his journey to date.
Alejandro wasn’t the student anyone pegged to be a doctor. In fact, he failed kindergarten – and by fifth grade the self-proclaimed troublemaker was only allowed to attend class with a parent escort.
“As a child, it’s very difficult to see past your surroundings if you live in a bad area. You think that’s as good as it gets,” Alejandro said. “That’s why it is important to have mentors – to show you something different, something better.”
Alejandro describes the next years as a downward spiral. It was in high school, when he tried to get a driver’s license and a job, that he realized school wasn’t his only problem.
Alejandro was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and moved with his family to Hawaii when he was a young child. His family then moved to southern California, a place Alejandro called home. But Alejandro was an undocumented immigrant.
“That was tough,” he said. “I was undocumented. I couldn’t get a driver’s license. I couldn’t work.”
Unleashing a Dream and Discovering a Village
Alejandro managed to graduate high school. With his newly-realized challenges as a DREAMer, a term that today indicates one of nearly two million immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, community college was his only option.
In college, Alejandro felt like the world was stacked against him. It took him four years of community college to get to a high school level. And classes were expensive without eligibility for federal or state financial aid. He was giving up on his dream to continue his education.
That’s when Alejandro’s village started to form. From a college counselor who was a refugee from Vietnam, to a woman from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), to a bus driver who every day reminded him to never give up, his supporters grew and played critical roles in his journey to multiple graduations.
After getting up to speed at Fullerton Community College, Alejandro was accepted to California Polytechnic State University where he majored in animal science and biotechnology. He found a passion with veterinary medicine and pathology and decided to attend Iowa State University to become a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM).
Despite these achievements, his struggles weren’t over. After paying for the first year of veterinary school with help from his father, who managed to secure a one-time loan, Alejandro found himself without money for tuition or living expenses.
The future looked bleak. But then, the local community stepped up. From professors to a church to anonymous donors and even a dean, people stood behind Alejandro and offered places to live, meals to eat and opportunities to continue pursuing his education – something this scholar had come to believe was the key to his future.
A New Chapter and a Career in Pathology
Alejandro’s father had petitioned for his child to receive permanent residency while Alejandro was a minor, but Alejandro turned 21 years old before his application was reviewed. That meant Alejandro had to start over and submit a new application. Throughout his college education, Alejandro had been waiting for that application to be reviewed.
With the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was created in 2012, there was a possible end in sight for Alejandro, who had graduated from his veterinary medicine program and been funded for a PhD/pathology residency program at Iowa State.
In 2017, now as Dr. Alejandro Larios Mora, he received permanent residency, which had become a 22-year journey.
While working on his PhD, Alejandro worked in a lab that used a model to test several therapeutics against respiratory syncytial virus, which causes a lower respiratory tract infection and is the leading cause of hospital stays for newborns, causing up to 200,000 deaths per year worldwide in developed countries.
“From taking care of the animals to collecting tissues, reading slides, and communicating with the client, I saw how much work it is to run these studies. This experience piqued my interest in getting a job in the drug development industry and helping to get new treatments to market.”
He joined Covance earlier this year and has already set a goal for the next achievement for his career.
“I am not done with my education,” Alejandro said. “As an anatomical pathologist, I would like to work toward becoming a Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology (DABT). Several pathologists here at Covance have that certification, and becoming a toxicologist will help advance my career in the field of toxicologic pathology.”
Turning the Tables as a Mentor and Role Model
Realizing the importance that role models, mentors and supporters have played in his journey, Alejandro seeks out opportunities to mentor others and give back.
He believes even the smallest interactions can make a significant impact in someone’s life.
“I recently met an employee here who was interested in veterinary school. I gave her advice about applying, and after we talked about opportunities in veterinary medicine, I offered to put her in touch with people in my network. I’m also interested in helping underrepresented kids. I’d like to talk to kids of all ages, as well as their families, and let them know about the importance of higher education.”
Alejandro says the support network within Covance is something he looks for in an employer.
“One thing that makes me a proud Covance employee is that everybody is accepted here. I’m also happy that people have the opportunity to grow within the company. I met a study director that started her Covance career working with animals and worked her way up to the position she has now.
“There are also so many ways to get involved, from networking through the employee resource groups to being part of the central community. When I joined, I was invited to a happy hour the Connect Committee set up for new employees. I think it’s the little things and the purpose we all share in our roles that brings people together.”
Alejandro’s relentless journey inspires us. We can’t wait to see his next steps and are proud to be by his side as he discovers his #CovancePotential.