“Guarantee” means a great deal to senior biology major Dominick DeFelice. It’s the name of the scholarship – the UNCG Guarantee – that made it possible for him to go to college. But it also signifies the pledge he’s made.

“I want to be the best doctor I can be and then do everything I can to give back to my parents. I’ve never lost sight of that.”

He’s making good on his word. Dominick is a Lloyd International Honors College scholar with a 4.0 GPA. He was named a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar honorable mention – two years in a row. He’s also held an undergraduate research assistantship for four straight years. His success is motivated by two main goals: to make important contributions to the field of medicine and to help turn around his family’s financial circumstances.

Dominick hails from Massapequa, N.Y. His father put off college until his 30s in order to raise eight siblings. Then he began to have health problems, undergoing several surgeries on his back and his brain. Eventually, when he lost some of his ability to speak and could no longer hold his job as an electrical engineer, medical bills mounted. That’s when the family moved to eastern North Carolina.

“I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately,” Dominick says. “Writing essays for med school applications has been a self-reflective process.”

Dominick has applied to 15 medical schools and a handful of master’s programs. His goal is to become a doctor who serves the underserved, close to home in eastern North Carolina. “If you took the part of North Carolina east of 95, where we moved, and made it its own state, it would be the poorest in the nation. You don’t have to look far to find people who don’t get adequate healthcare. I was in that situation. My family had to choose buying food over going to the doctor’s office.”

Dominick’s academic success should earn him entry into medical school. But another path intrigues him as well. Years of intense lab work alongside Dr. Olav Rueppell have shown Dominick the rewards of research. “Healthcare relies on what people in academia are doing,” he says. “My assistantship taught me about that link. My plan is to become a doctor, but I am open to a career in research.”

He’s identified diabetes as a focal point. “It’s a problem that needs to be solved. Instances are increasing. Eventually there will be too many diabetics to treat. I want to discover how we can combat the disease.”

Dominick has completed several projects, trained students who are new to the lab, and traveled to conferences to present his findings on a number of studies. “Presenting in front of experts is something I’ve grown comfortable with. Even though you are the youngest one there, they grill you with tough questions. But that’s what makes me ask my own tough questions.”

A lot has changed since he faced the tough question of whether college would be a possibility. The once high school kid with an uncertain future is now a semester away from graduating with just about every honor and opportunity ahead imaginable. His sister, Sally, a UNCG in 3 student, has followed his path to UNCG.

“Getting the Guarantee scholarship was the big moment when my college education became possible. That’s one reason I like UNCG, because they serve the underserved. And they challenge you. There is a level of commitment you have to rise up to here. You have to dig a little deeper. But I’ve kept my family’s background and my ultimate goals in mind, and I just pushed through. If I am going to study to be a doctor, this is my chance.”

Interested in supporting the UNCG Guarantee and opportunities that make a direct impact on the lives of students? Guarantee students are raising support for a study abroad course to Querétaro, Mexico, that will take place in the summer of 2014. With a goal of $6,000, the Funding the Journey campaign will allow students to take a course that will open their eyes to the world, preparing them to compete in today’s global environment.  

By Andrea Spencer, University Relations

Photography by Chris English, University Relations

Contributors: UNCG seniors Katie Rachels, Mikayla Cisna, Emily Wall and Andrew Clarke