Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Remarkable Seniors: Maria Carrasquilla, Wolfson High School; from Colombia to Aiming for the Florida Stars

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Remarkable Seniors: Maria Carrasquilla, Wolfson High School; from Colombia to Aiming for the Florida Stars

Article excerpt

Byline: MATT COLEMAN

She knew a few key English phrases when she came to America from her native Colombia a decade ago.

What's your name? How are you doing?

Just the basics.

A few months later, after settling in Jacksonville, she was comfortable engaging in full-blown conversations with her teacher and peers in her English Speakers of Other Languages classes.

"It just came easy," 18-year-old Maria Carrasquilla said. "English has always felt kind of natural to me."

The graduating Wolfson High School senior said she's ready for the next step - a college degree from an American university. The University of Florida is the destination.

It's something she never dreamed possible growing up in South America.

"The opportunities I've received in America have been amazing," she said.

Carrasquilla came to this country with her father and older brother in 2000. She said the decision to move came when her father, Jose, lost his civil engineering job. Financial times were hard enough while he was employed, so he decided to test his mettle in America.

Her parents were separated, but they gave her the option to stay in Colombia with her mother and two younger siblings or leave for a new life.

"It was an easy decision because I felt drawn to this country," she said.

It was difficult starting out. Her father, an interior mechanic for planes, was away from home often on business. That left her to raise herself for a good chunk of her formative years.

Adjusting to life in America, however, didn't take long. Once the language barrier fell, Carrasquilla started getting involved.

Friends were made playing soccer, a passion of hers that was fostered in Colombia. And as she progressed through school, she joined on-campus clubs such as the National Honor Society and Student Government.

Despite juggling all of her out-of-school responsibilities, she maintained a grade-point average that placed her in the top five of her class and paved the way for a full ride to UF.

She said she briefly considered applying to Ivy League schools because of her involvement in the QuestBridge National College Match Program, a nonprofit that pairs high-achieving, low-income students with prestigious institutions. But she said she decided on UF to stay close enough to home to spend time with her younger brother, who earned admission into the country in March.

Carrasquilla's already settled on her major. She wants to follow in her father's footsteps and pursue a degree in engineering.

She likes planes. She just wants to take it one step further.

"I'm really interested in astronautics and technologies for research in space," she said. "It's always been my dream to work on something that can go into space. And I can get that opportunity at Florida. …

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