By Alba N. Cuebas Fantauzzi
Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico - Army Reserve Soldier Stephanie Angie Silvagnoli, a native of Ponce, a city in southern Puerto Rico, made history by becoming the first U.S. citizen from the island, among over 15 nationwide applicants, who received the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) to study optometry, earlier this past summer.
The HPSP is a very competitive, comprehensive scholarship program that awards four years of fully paid tuition - dependent on specialty - to only a few qualifying Soldiers every year. This coveted scholarship covers almost all costs associated with a medical degree such as books, equipment and housing, among other expenses.
However, the road to success was not an easy one.
As part of the process Silvagnoli had to apply to the HPSP twice before being selected. Despite this setback, the Soldier did not get discouraged, and instead applied the resilience she has learned in the Army Reserve, to finally pass the selection board process in the second time.
“You must go a hundred and ten percent on your application. Provide more than the minimum of recommendation letters, take your time and get as many relevant references as possible,” said Silvagnoli with an emotional tone.
Thanks to the HPSP, Silvagnoli is currently pursuing an optometrist degree at the InterAmerican University in Bayamon, without the need of taking student loans.
The Soldier also received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, in a virtual ceremony.
The Soldier began her academic journey with a Bachelor of Science in biology at University of Puerto Rico in Ponce, and joined the Army Reserve during her junior year in 2016. Out of all healthcare specialties, she found herself most passionate about optometry.
“Optometry showed me a lot of potential, where you can have a balance between the business and healthcare side of practicing medicine,” said Silvagnoli.
While COVID-19 has impacted students all around the world, it has not stopped Silvagnoli’s from moving forward to her goal of becoming an optometrist. Classes have moved to virtual coursework and with a diverse online curriculum. However, she is still required to conduct community clinics with real patients.
“The COVID-19 has made all interactions with patients different, such as frequent disinfecting, social distancing and masks are required at all times. But the Army made me grow up and become less scared of different experiences - it gave me a lot of courage,” added Silvagnoli, while describing how she applies her Army Reserve experiences in the middle of the pandemic.
Silvagnoli’s personal story clearly showcases the many career progression opportunities that the Army and the Army Reserve offer to its members. It also shows how the U.S. Army Reserve in Puerto Rico has become an essential part of the total force, with highly trained citizen-soldiers who embody the warrior mindset and spirit.