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Atlantic Cape Alumnus Working To Find COVID-19 Treatment

09/25/2020 | Media Contact: Erin Mercer | (609) 343-4923
a photo of Felix at the distinguished alumni awards ceremony

When Atlantic County native Felix Contreras-Castro started school at Atlantic Cape Community College in 2012, he admits having no idea what he wanted to do. Now, the 30-year-old is serving as a Clinical Research Manager at one of the nation’s largest and most respected hospitals, The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, on the front lines of identifying effective treatments for COVID-19 patients.

“I would have never thought I’d be here. I never even imagined leaving South Jersey,” said Contreras-Castro. “I’m the first in my family to go to college. I didn’t have too many aspirations or know what I wanted to do, but I always had the passion to learn and be open-minded, and that’s what led me to where I am today.”

Now, Contreras-Castro's days at Mount Sinai are very focused. A Clinical Researcher, his days have been spent compiling data: collecting blood serum samples, analyzing patients’ electronic medical records, and meeting with the physician-scientists leading the studies to discuss the findings. The hospital is currently testing medications to determine effectiveness on patients with COVID-19. “We suspect the medication used to treat SARS can be effective,” he said, further noting, “we also have noticed that men are dying at a significantly higher rate than women, so we are testing the idea that estrogen might provide an extra layer of protection.”

It’s a job that Contreras-Castro describes as stressful but fulfilling, and he credits Atlantic Cape as creating the foundation that prepared him for this role. “My route wasn’t the most efficient, since I had three majors (Biology, Sociology, and Human Services),” he admits, “but, Atlantic Cape gave me the flexibility to be curious and take classes I was interested in, which helped me find my focus. So many students start with a clear plan of what they think they want to do, and that’s OK, but it’s also OK to figure it out along the way. Base it on what you like and what you are interested in; be curious.”

Contreras-Castro’s curiosity and drive landed him an internship at Yale School of Medicine, where he decided he wanted to pursue a career in the medical field. From there, the Distinguished Alumni Award winner received a full ride to Amherst College after graduating from Atlantic Cape in 2014. “I always say that Atlantic Cape was my foundation and Yale was my compass. I want students to know that you are not defined by where you start, where you were born, how you look, your religion, or your sexuality. Those markers do not define your destiny. I didn’t let my identities define my future. I started as a cashier at CVS making minimum wage, and job is so rewarding.”

But, Contreras-Castro isn’t done learning just yet. He plans on enrolling in medical school in 2022. He hopes that current and future Atlantic Cape students who hear his story will feel empowered and seize the opportunities open to them. “Go in there with the mindset that you want to learn because it will lead you to the next steps in your life. Don’t be afraid to go through doors that open for you. Create your own narrative. So many people inspired me; I want to return the favor.”