Photography by Gabe Cano

Viola, drill Senior Lieutenant, ballet, varsity tennis, swimming, National Honor Society, Girl Scouts and calculator applications captain — 17-year-old Paolaenid Rodney-Hernandez really does it all.

But her true love is science. The Hillcrest High School senior is completing her associates of science degree through a program offered by Hillcrest Collegiate Academy. She plans on pursuing neuroscience either as medical doctor or researcher.

“I want to do something with brains,” Rodney-Hernandez says. “I know I want to help people, and one of my goals is to have neurosurgery be less invasive and less painful so the patients can feel better.”

Rodney-Hernandez found her love for science when she joined science club in elementary school. One of the projects was dissecting owl pellets. Then in fifth grade, she dissected a squid.

“That was really interesting for me because I didn’t know squids have a feather inside of them that’s called a gladius,” she says. “That’s when I realized I really liked science.”

As a high school freshman, she spent nine days at Johns Hopkins. She learned how to suture and received her CPR certification. During a tour of the University of Maryland at Baltimore, she saw a medical dummy that first-year medical students practice resuscitating and intubation. Twenty students from Hillcrest High were nominated for the program, but Rodney-Hernandez was the only one accepted in the highly-selective program

“I got to hold half of a human brain in my hand, which was also very, very cool,” she says. “I’m most proud of myself for when I got into the Congress and into the Hopkins. I like ‘wow, I’m part of like the big league.’ ”

As a sophomore, she was nominated by Hillcrest to be part of the three-day National Congress of Future Medical Physicians in Medical Sciences at Harvard.

“My favorite part of that program was where I got to witness a partial knee replacement live on a big screen. That was really fun,” Rodney-Hernandez says.

“My mom taught me to always push through anything. No matter whatever anybody says, you can push through it.”

She says her mother, Dr. Rosenid Hernández-Badia, a librarian at Benjamin Franklin International Exploratory Academy and a former professor of biology, encouraged her two daughters to explore STEM coursework.

“We would be like, ‘Mom, we want to do a science experiment. Can we use these things?’ ” Rodney-Hernandez says.

“I really look up to my mom, especially with her biology background,” she says. “She’s one of the reasons I really like science, because I grew up loving and learning about science, like ever since I was a baby.”

Even Rodney-Hernandez’s favorite shows have medical themes. She just recently finished watching Grey’s Anatomy, The Night Shift and Criminal Minds.

This past summer, Rodney-Hernandez virtually interned at Texas Instruments, where she learned about different job types and professional skills to prep for college. UT Austin, the University of Dallas, Baylor and Austin College are on her college applications short list; she’s looking for a school that offers a great neuroscience program, accepts her dual credit classes from Hillcrest and provides enough scholarship help.

“I’m really thankful for all the teachers who nominated me, because without them, I wouldn’t have been able to go to all those places and have those amazing opportunities,” she says “Those are some of my favorite high school experiences that I’ll take with me forever.”


“My mom’s a scuba instructor, and my family and I scuba dive. I want to scuba dive with the giant manta rays that only are in Indonesian waters. Like they’re like bigger than a human.”