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Gaston College graduates overcome obstacles pursuing medical careers


Gaston College recognized two honor graduates that were part of the school’s SPARC program.

The program is offered to students of high academic merit majoring in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). It offers students resources such as scholarships up to $6,000, mentorships and guaranteed enrollment.

Both students graduated alongside their peers Friday, May 13, at CaroMont Health Park.

Linda Pineda-Sabas

Family tragedies, emigration and many setbacks could have held 27-year-old Linda Pineda-Sabas back from obtaining a college education. 

Originally from Medellin, Colombia, Sabas witnessed the murders of her father and uncle as a child. Sabas mother and stepfather brought her to New Jersey so she could escape further violence in her home country. 

Two years after settling in the United States, Sabas welcomed a little brother, and quickly assumed the role of a big sister. 

“It has always been in my nature to take care of others,” said the Ranlo resident.

“For this reason, I always wanted to become a doctor. My plan was to graduate high school and attend med school after college, but due to poor choices, that option was lost,” she added.

Despite having a daughter during her junior year of high school, Sabas stayed in school and graduated with honors to go to a technical school where she became a certified medical assistant.

After overcoming an abusive relationship in 2016, Sabas began her first semester in the nursing program at Gaston College.

Sabas took classes online while caring for her children, including a newborn daughter. She put on hold her education once again due to scheduling conflicts, later working at a non-profit medical clinic in the meantime.

The COVID-19 pandemic gave Sabas the perfect opportunity to return to school, as she had more time in her schedule, homeschooling her children.

“I took this opportunity to give my children an example of determination during difficult, emotional and scary times,” Sabas said.

Sabas later changed her major to science and entered the SPARC program.

Recently, Sabas was nominated as the recipient for Gaston College’s Academic Excellence Award. 

“I was completely in shock when I received the email,” Sabas said.

“I was also very grateful to the amazing professors that thought so highly of me to nominate me for such a great honor,” she added.

Now, Sabas has an associate degree in science and plans to enter the UNC Charlotte in the fall, where she plans to obtain a bachelor’s in biology and enter the physician assistant program.

“I will continue to set an example for my children in both professional and personal aspects of life,” Sabas said.

Steven Villela Lugo, a Shelby resident, graduated with an associate's in science from Gaston College. He was part of the SPARC program that assisted him through college. In the fall, he will attend UNC Chapel Hill to continue his path toward medical school.

Steven Villela Lugo

Since moving to North Carolina from California, 29-year-old Shelby resident Steven Villela Lugo’s goal was to become an EMT.

Upon obtaining his GED at 24, Lugo joined Cleveland County’s EMT, and there he was encouraged to become a paramedic. Lugo quickly realized his passion for the field of medicine.

Lugo enrolled at Gaston College in the spring of 2021, with the intention of earning an associate degree in science and then transferring to a four-year university.

During his time at Gaston College, Lugo was recommended to join the SPARC program.

“I’ve been very grateful for the financial assistance provided by SPARC,” said Lugo.

“Another huge benefit was being able to sit down and talk with people like Dr. Maggiotti, who helped me gain the confidence to apply to Chapel Hill and believe in myself enough to continue my path toward medical school,” he added.

Throughout his journey, Lugo maintained a 4.0 GPA. He will transfer to UNC Chapel Hill to obtain a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering.

Lugo hopes to obtain the resources necessary to become a medical doctor in the future.

“To anyone who is exploring their options, I would say that the most abundant thing in the world is wasted talent,” Lugo said.

“Don’t take satisfaction in your innate ability but instead take pride in the sheer amount of hard work and discipline you put toward achieving your goals. Hard work beats talent when talent isn’t working hard,” he added.

Beatriz Guerrero can be reached at 704-869-1828 or on Twitter@BeatrizGue_.

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