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Joana Pantoja – Metro Technology Centers and HOSA

First-generation American has sights set on a future in optometry.

THEN: A soft-spoken first-generation American whose parents didn’t speak English. Joana Pantoja’s father was a roofer, her mother was a housekeeper, and they both worked hard to try to save enough money to send their children to college.

In middle school she wanted to be a lawyer, but by high school she realized she preferred science over social studies. When a Metro Technology Centers recruiter visited ASTEC Charter High School, Joana decided to enroll in the technology center’s Biomedical Sciences Academy, a Project Lead the Way program. After attending a classroom lecture about the eye, including a dissection, Joana discovered a passion for vision sciences. She also joined HOSA, the health occupations student organization, and excelled at state and national contests three years in a row.

After graduation she enrolled at the University of Central Oklahoma and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and biomedical sciences.

Joana credits Metro Tech and HOSA for:

  • Teaching her how to use lab equipment she would need to use in college.
  • Helping her improve her networking and communication skills, including how to write research manuscripts and lab reports.
  • Introducing her to notetaking and study methods that aligned with her learning style.
  • Writing letters of recommendation and offering resume guidance that led to several scholarships, including the first ever James D. Branscum Scholarship.

"I felt connected to my teachers at Metro Tech," she said. "I felt like I could talk to them, ask them anything, and they were there to give me advice and support me in anything I wanted to do."

Traveling to the national HOSA conference was Joana’s first airplane trip. Through HOSA activities she traveled to Disneyland, Disney World and Nashville, Tennessee. There were even more travel opportunities as an undergrad at UCO, where she presented her research at national conferences.

NOW: A confident, well-spoken first-generation college graduate, Joana will attend optometry school this fall at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. She's helping her parents learn English, and she has motivated her little brother to set his sights on college as well. Her school and work connections recently got her a free eye exam, and she'll receive a free pair of eyeglasses when she gets to school. She's already been promised a residency with an ophthalmologist.

"My mentor at UCO said he was amazed at everything I already knew when I got to college."

Joana Pantoja

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