Christopher Navas, a high school dropout who was raised by a single mother on welfare, never expected to be going to an Ivy League medical school, but that’s just where he’s heading.
Navas, 30, graduated last week from Queens College and was the recipient of an $8,000 Jonas Salk scholarship awarded to eight graduates from the senior colleges of CUNY who are heading to medical school. He will attend the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
Things weren’t always so rosy for Navas, who moved with his mother and two older siblings six times before he was 18. He grew up in Flushing, later moving to Little Neck and Bayside.
While he was enrolled at Cardozo High School, his family moved to Great Neck and he dropped out. “I wasn’t doing that well in school and got a job,” he said. “Later, I got my GED and my family convinced me to go back to school.”
Navas got his two-year associate’s degree at Nassau Community College and then was admitted to Queens College. “I didn’t know what to major in so since I was working out, I thought about becoming a gym teacher or going into physical therapy,” he said.
Navas still was unsure about his future until a psychology instructor, Giuseppe Cataldo, took Navas’ class on a tour of a college lab conducting pain research. Navas was hooked and got involved in research and was accepted into an honors neuroscience program.
Meanwhile, the honors grad continued to work fulltime at a commercial boiler manufacturer. “Once you find what you want to do in life, you’ll make the sacrifices you need to,” Navas said.
In his spare time, he became a certified EMT and volunteered at his fire department and at North Shore University Hospital emergency room in Manhasset.
He’s not sure what his medical specialty will be — he likes several areas including cardiology, emergency medicine and neurology. “I’m excited and nervous,” Navas said about med school. “I think it will be a great experience and my mother is ecstatic.” His fiancee, a physician’s assistant, will be joining him in the move to New Hampshire.
Navas’ advice to unmotivated students without goals is to take different types of classes until they find what excites them. “You also have to be optimistic,’ he said. “I was working hard and then going to class, but I knew it would get better.”
The encouragement from his family also helped. “I also got lucky, because I found what I liked,” Navas added.