- Burnett School College of Medicine Communique Diversity Faculty News Research
College of Medicine research professor Dr. Cristina Fernández-Valle is one of five UCF faculty members who received this year’s Pegasus Professor award, the university’s highest faculty honor. Professors who receive this distinction have well-established careers at UCF and beyond, with national and international recognition for their impact on their area of expertise. Dr. Fernández-Valle was honored in a virtual ceremony on Wednesday, April 7.
Dr. Fernández-Valle left Cuba as an infant and moved to Miami with her sisters and parents to escape communism. Even though her father had been an attorney in Cuba, they had to rebuild their lives from the ground up in the United States. She remembers rolling newspapers with her mother for a paper route in the predawn hours. Her father put himself through law school again while working full time to support his family. The perseverance of her parents shaped her life.
“I had the example of hard work and that you can achieve anything. You can have everything taken from you, but you can never lose your education.”Dr. Cristina Fernández-Valle
“I had the example of hard work and that you can achieve anything,” Dr. Fernández-Valle says. “You can have everything taken from you, but you can never lose your education.”
Dr. Fernández-Valle who heads the Neuroscience Division at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences researches neurofibromatosis 2 (NF2), a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerves and in the brain. It’s extremely painful and debilitating, and there is no cure. She is trying to find a therapy that can stop tumors from growing. Recently, a drug that she has been working on began a clinical trial —which is “like going to the Super Bowl,” she says.
“What she has done is given hope to people who have a chronic disease that is deforming and painful,” says Dr. Deborah German, dean of the College of Medicine and vice president for Health Affairs.
Dr. Fernández-Valle doesn’t take her work lightly and says lives depend on her and what she discovers in her lab. She mentors students and scientists and tries to create opportunities for everyone.
“I never stop learning,” she says. “I want to help our students become the best ‘them’ they can be. I open the doors to everyone I can. Having the opportunity to walk through an open door is the first step to building a successful career as a scientist.”