Juan Camargo, Scholarship Recipient

“The Yvonne S. Quinn and Ronald S. Rolfe Scholarship has allowed me to focus on my studies and my passions. I’m very thankful for having that.” — Juan Camargo

Juan Camargo

Juan Camargo received the Yvonne S. Quinn and Ronald S. Rolfe Scholarship and was interviewed during the 2019-2020 academic year. View stories from this year's scholarship recipients at the giving stories page.

Juan Camargo is a competitor.

The Illinois freshman ran track and cross country while attending Cary-Grove High School. Just months after wrapping his senior prep career, he found he was missing the work. That’s what led him to lace up his running shoes again and pound the pavement with his sites set on a new distance – 26.2 miles, a full marathon.

“That is one of my goals in life, to be able to race 26.2 miles as fast as I possibly can,” he said. “There’s just this feeling of happiness that comes with it. For me it’s not the competitiveness between people but being competitive with myself. The goal is to be the best I can ever possibly be, and that’s one thing I remind myself every day. I look myself in the mirror and say that. That sums up my goal in life overall – in running, in chemistry, in learning.”

Camargo was born in Bogota, Colombia, where he was raised by his single mother and grandparents. His mother’s love story brought the mother and son to the United States in 2014 when her online relationship ultimately grew into a happy, healthy marriage. Camargo started the latter half of seventh grade in a new country at a new school with a new language.

“Everyone was extremely nice, and I think the hardest part was the language,” he recalled. “I’m really glad it happened. I find myself not having just the values of one culture or point of view. I really appreciate having varied perspectives. I got to grow up in Colombia from 12 ½ years old and see the world from their point of view and come here and understand that there are different lifestyles, different opinions, different ways to see the world. I think that allowed me to really explore and be really accepting of other people.”

When the time came to choose his university, Camargo had several criteria he was considering. He wanted to be close to home, and he was keenly aware of the financial support that would be required to make his goals possible.

“Location was a big choice, because of my parents, but, also, I just fell in love with the school when I came here,” he said. “All my life I was doing what I needed to do and micromanaging my life as a very young kid. I’ve always liked the idea of being able to manage my own life. Now, with my scholarship, I get that freedom.”

Camargo entered the biochemistry program with hopes of going into neuroscience research following graduation. Although recently, he’s been drawn to the chemistry component of his studies and hopes to make a move to major in chemistry.

“The concept of atoms and how we can explain the world by interactions between nanoparticles–the fact that we can explain the world that way, amazes me,” he said. “I want to learn as much as we know about it, because ultimately what we know about the world, or what we think we know about the world, is based on the observations we see, but we can only see so much about the world. We’ll never see it all.”

With such a wonder for the foundation of life, it doesn’t seem too far of a stretch to consider Camargo also has an affinity for philosophy, which may have led him to a new career goal – education. Whether that will take him to a high school chemistry lab or a university lecture hall, he is unsure, for now.

“There are so many great students, faculty, and TA’s everywhere,” he said of Illinois. “I find myself meeting people who have that urge to wonder, who aspire to wonder and know more. I’m just gaining knowledge from all around the place. I don’t think you would get that everywhere. The Yvonne S. Quinn and Ronald S. Rolfe Scholarship has allowed me to focus on my studies and my passions, because otherwise I would have to be working 20-30-hour weeks. There is a big stress relief and time relief that allows me to focus on my academics and my training. I’m very thankful for having that, otherwise my life would be extremely different.”


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