By Amie Imler, Lecturer/ANS Internship Coordinator
In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we are highlighting Bianca Ruiz, Christopher Hernandez, and Sofia Calderon!
Bianca Ruiz – Integrative Specialization
Animal Sciences Integrative Specialization Junior, Bianca Ruiz. Ruiz was born and raised in Miami, Florida, and traces her Hispanic roots to Cuba, where her family immigrated from Havana. Her first visit to Cuba was for her Quinceañera, or 15th birthday. Looking back, Bianca describes some of her favorite memories from that trip, including walking along El Malecon with her family and seeing how lively Cuba was at night firsthand. More importantly, Bianca says the trip allowed her to connect with her family and culture more deeply.
Today, Bianca enjoys visiting and spending time with her extended family when she travels home to Miami on the weekends or during school breaks. These moments with her family are one of her favorite family traditions, which started when she was a small child. Every Saturday, her grandparents host a family lunch, a tradition that has continued to this day. Her abuela often cooks rice and black beans with steak and avocados. Besides the delicious food, Ruiz enjoys seeing her family and catching up with her cousins.
Ruiz’s favorite thing about being an Animal Sciences student is her ability to make the most of her student experience. Bianca’s favorite classes have all offered a hands-on learning approach, which has improved her animal-handling skills and confidence. She is also involved in the Animal Sciences Department as an ANS Ambassador.
Her advice to prospective students is to make the most of your degree and to shape it to your goals. Bianca encourages future and current students to do this by taking advantage of the department’s diverse classes and getting involved in research or clubs that interest them, even if they have yet to gain prior experience.
Christopher Hernandez – Animal Biology Specialization
Senior Animal Sciences student Christopher Hernandez grew up in Miami, Florida. Both of Hernandez’s parents are Cuban. His grandparents immigrated to Miami from Cuba in 1980 during the Mariel boatlift. Today, Chris and his family celebrate their Hispanic culture primarily through cooking and family gatherings in the United States. Hernandez’s favorite meal to share with his family is bistec milanesa, rice, beans, and fried plantains, and his favorite holiday to celebrate with his family is Nochebuena (Christmas Eve).
Reflecting on his time at the University of Florida, Chris shares that one of the best parts of being an Animal Sciences student is all the opportunities in the major to get involved. Following his transition to campus as a PaCE student in his junior year, Hernandez has taken advantage of these opportunities to grow his skillset and pursue his interests. From joining the Intercollegiate Livestock Judging Team to attending the IPPE College Student Career Program and the Midwest Poultry Consortium, Chris has enjoyed making connections within the department that have helped him with internship and career placement. His advice to current and prospective students is to keep an open mind to the various careers and opportunities available and to connect with as many professionals as possible.
Sofia Calderon – Alumni
2019 Animal Sciences (Food Animal Specialization) graduate Sofia Calderon also shares some of her favorite family traditions and memories as an undergraduate student at the University of Florida. Calderon has a diverse Hispanic heritage. Her mother is from Puerto Rico, and her dad is from Mexico. Both immigrated during the 1980s, and Sofia recalls them making several sacrifices for her and her brother over the years. All to ensure Sofia and her brother could pursue their passions through higher education.
Calderon recalls her parents encouraging her to pursue her dream of becoming a veterinarian following her admission to the University of Florida. As Sofia began exploring opportunities in Animal Sciences, she pivoted away from veterinary medicine and developed an interest in meat science and food safety. All with the support of her parents. Looking back, Sofia recalls her favorite memories as an Animal Sciences student, including traveling across the United States with the Intercollegiate Meat Judging Team and getting her hands dirty during labs at the animal teaching units.
Today, Sofia enjoys a successful career at SEE, a global company formerly known as Sealed Air. As an Applications Engineer, she researches innovative ways to package meat that improve shelf life and sustainability. Sofia is responsible for testing new products under realistic conditions that mimic meat processing facilities while providing technical support to customers.
Sofia advises current and prospective students never to let go of a personal passion or hobby while pursuing their degree. Her interest in foreign languages, inspired in part by her heritage and her minor in Chinese, launched her career in food packaging. Sofia’s advisor at the time, Amie Imler, knew her background and unique interests. As a result, Imler connected Sofia to an Animal Sciences alumni at a packaging company. Sofia encourages students to embrace their heritage and pursue hobbies that enrich their college experience – you never know how it could lead to a unique connection!