Albion grad follows dream to Harvard
Nolberto Martinez Maya, son of farmworkers, wants to serve others as a physician
ALBION – A 2021 Albion graduate is on campus at Harvard University, pursuing his goal of a career in medicine.
Nolberto Martinez Maya graduated from Albion on June 25. He was the class vice president. He also earned his associate’s degree from Genesee Community College in May, juggling an extra full load of courses the past year in high school and at GCC, taking all of them online during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He took the GCC classes and earned a 4.0 GPA. At Albion, he didn’t want to coast through to the finish, even when many students backed off with their academics during the pandemic. He wanted tough classes, and completed AP (Advanced Placement) in biology, calculus and statistics, as well as the others at GCC.
“It was pretty challenging,” he said. “I’m not going to lie.”
Nolberto, 18, will be double majoring in molecular genetics and sociology at Harvard, and minoring in Spanish. He is on a pre-med path. He wants to be a surgeon or work as a physician.
He is the first Albion graduate to go directly to Harvard since Michael Patterson in 2013.
“I know it is uncommon for someone from Orleans County to go to Harvard,” Nolberto said. “I wanted to go medical and shoot for the best medical colleges.”
On April 6 it was “Ivy Day” when the elite colleges and universities notify applicants if they have been accepted. The schools send out the acceptance – or rejection – notifications at 7 p.m. that day. Sometimes the applicants are waitlisted, and still have a chance of being accepted.
Nolberto applied at eight colleges and universities. He already knew he had been accepted by the University of Rochester. But he also tried for several others.
He opened up the messages from Yale, Cornell and Columbia – they all were rejections. Johns Hopkins had him waitlisted.
Nolberto checked the application portal from Harvard, the private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Mass.
Nolberto took a deep breath and opened the applicant portal. He was greeted with computer-generated confetti on his screen and a message, “You have been accepted into the Class of 2025.”
He felt immediate elation.
“I screamed,” he said. “I was so happy.”
Nolberto will be part of an exclusive Class of 2025. Harvard had its lowest admissions rate ever – accepting only 3.43 percent or 1,968 students out of the 57,435 who applied.
He contacted his close friends in a group call and they joined in the celebration. He will be attending on a full ride scholarship.
Nolberto is the son of his father Honorato and mother Inocencia. They work trimming fruit trees and grafting them. Nolberto is the youngest of his siblings, who include Everardo, Lorena and Honorato.
Nolberto was born at the former Lakeside Memorial Hospital in Brockport. He attended Pre-K at the ABCD Agri-Business Child Development center in Holley. He then went to Albion from kindergarten through grade 12.
He helped his parents often at fruit farms, especially with grafting trees, where branches from two types of apple trees are cut and tied together to produce a different variety. He helped plant many of the trees and said he feels pride when he goes by them a few years later and sees fruit on the trees.
There is lots of biology involved in grafting trees and working on farms. Biology is a passion for Nolberto. In 8th grade, he realized math and science were his strongest subjects. Near the end of that school year, he also was notified he was excelling academically. That’s when he found out he was ranked among the top 10 of his classmates.
When he was in eighth grade, a teacher had him and his classmates write a letter to their future selves. Nolberto, in his letter, urged his future self to “get the best grades possible and the be the best person possible.”
He made a list of elite universities and put Harvard on the list for his future education. He hadn’t thought of that letter until it was given back to the students near the end of their senior year.
Nolberto said some of his close friends pushed each other to apply to superior schools. That trio of friends encouraged him to aim very high. Nolberto said he is proud of his friends for also getting into top-ranked colleges. That includes Aisha Drisdom, the class salutatorian who is at Carnegie Mellon University; Ashley Ames, the class valedictorian who is at Geneseo State College; and Claire Squicciarini, who is at Alfred University.
Nolberto knows he has his work cut out for him at Harvard. It will be a steady journey, with years of effort to reach his goal. That is fine with him, a diploma that won’t come easy.
He credited his Albion biology teacher Sandy Climenhaga for instilling a love of the sciences, and for emphasizing students should try “hard things” even if it might knock down their GPA.
Climenhaga is encouraging, but also offers feedback on where students missed the mark, and what they need to do to improve.
Not all students want to hear that, or to see the teacher’s red ink on their papers. Nolberto welcomed the input from Climenhaga.
When he was accepted from Harvard, she was the first teacher he contacted with the news.
“In order to achieve at this type of level, it has to be innate,” Climenhaga said in an interview. “There has to be internally a drive to learn and I have seen that in Nolberto.”
Climenhaga has her students in AP biology read two books, and Nolberto said both were influential in him wanting to pursue science. Despite a very busy courseload, Climenhaga had her students read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a book about a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells were taken without her knowledge in 1951 and were used to develop the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping and in vitro fertilization. The book highlights bioethics, race and medicine. Nolberto wrote about this book in his essay to Harvard.
He and his classmates also read The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story, a nonfiction book in 1994 about Ebola and other viruses.
Climenhaga said the two books are “real stories about real people.”
She praised Nolberto for an appetite for learning, and for wanting to educate himself and be of service to others.
“He is such a sweet, mild mannered kid,” Climenhaga said. “He is very selfless and always has been. He really wants to do good. He is a student who makes his community better and wants to pursue a career to make his community better.”
She would like to see more students take the more challenging AP classes at Albion and GCC courses while in high school.
“Hopefully it will encourage kids to get out of their comfort zone and try something hard,” she said about Nolberto’s enrollment at Harvard. “He had a goal and he put everything into it. You have to give him high marks for that. It wasn’t easy.”