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Luis Melecio-Zambrano ’18: Agent of Change, Product of Growth

Luis Melecio-Zambrano ’18: “I am such a different person from when I came in. I think that’s been in a really good way.”

During his time at Stetson, Luis Melecio-Zambrano ’18 was emblematic of the increasing diversity of the university. Even more so, as he evolved as a student, he became an agent of change across the DeLand campus.

Growing up with an Air Force father, Melecio-Zambrano went to high school in Niceville, a small town in the Florida Panhandle of more than 90 percent white residents. His father, originally from Puerto Rico, and his mother, from Venezuela, met in Tennessee. He was born in Venezuela, where his father was stationed. Certainly not typical.

Similarly, Melecio-Zambrano mixed chemistry with music, receiving a Bachelor of Science while minoring as a vocalist. Uncommon.

Melecio-Zambrano called the phenomena of chemistry, such as the interaction of visible light with molecules, “beautiful,” also noting that “it captured me.” Arriving on campus with an interest in environmentalism but not quite sure of a specific course of study, Melecio-Zambrano fell in love at introduction, simply by taking a class in organic chemistry.

“When I went into the class, I came out and there was just this power of explanation and of parable-solving that I hadn’t seen elsewhere,” said Melecio-Zambrano, who now will attend Cornell University to pursue a doctorate in chemistry.

On campus at Stetson, Melecio-Zambrano also was able to find his voice, literally, overcoming initial stage fright with the help of music professors. “There was a time where I went up [in front of people to sing] and I panicked and just ran out of the room,” he recalled, citing another time his knees were shaking so badly people could have asked, “Is there a fan behind your leg?”

Through it all, Melecio-Zambrano was making a difference outside the classroom, too.

Melecio-Zambrano (far left) joins others at the Cross Cultural Center on campus.

As a first-year student in fall 2014, he found a strong Hispanic population but one that lacked community, he described. A year later, he became president of Unidos, Stetson’s Latin American student association. Previously, the group had been called H.O.L.A. (Hispanic Organization for Latin Awareness). Melecio-Zambrano helped to raise its profile.

In addition, Melecio-Zambrano served on the university’s Inclusive Implementation Strategy Group, which included representatives from staff, faculty and students. The group worked (and continues) to foster inclusive excellence at Stetson, addressing questions such as how to balance freedom of speech with issues of making certain that everyone feels safe and comfortable?

“We have to enable complex dialogue and attempt to generate people who come out of the university better than when they started. I think that requires difficult dialogue; I believe it,” he commented.

Not coincidentally, Stetson’s Cross Cultural Center, popularly known at Tri-C, became a second home. He called it a “safe place,” a “place to decompress,” and where he enjoyed “amazing times” and “shared struggles and shared joys.” For good measure, he added the Tri-C was “where I found my center.”

In turn, the Stetson community helped Melecio-Zambrano grow as a person.

In his first year, when he learned that a close friend was diagnosed terminal breast cancer, Melecio-Zambrano was in need of help as disbelief turned into despair. The help was there for him.

“I called the counseling center, and my counselor was there, and they helped me out,” he recounted. “And then in the moments when [I was] unsure, [there was] always somebody.”

And, in his final semester this past spring, amid clouds of more worries about that same friend, more help emerged.

“It was getting to the point where I was really feeling it, and I was struggling academically,” he explained. “So, I finally told my professor [Harry Price, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, director of biochemistry] why I had been out of it, and he opened up. And he talked about his mom and his mourning process and his, how she had gotten sick and how he had dealt with that. And through our conversation, it helped.”

Melecio-Zambrano gave to Stetson, and the university returned the favor.

“For me, this [was] a place where I could grow,” Melecio-Zambrano concluded. “I think the way Stetson is built socially and academic is in a way that’s challenging. I am such a different person from when I came in. I think that’s been in a really good way.”

-Michael Candelaria