An education choice scholarship has Carlos on the pre-med track at the University of Miami

Sep 12 2023 • By Roger Mooney


In August, Carlos Felipe Gutierrez-Carranza began his freshman year at the University of Miami with a clear vision for his future. He wants to be a doctor.

That goal was set during the summer of 2022 when he shadowed a physician for one week as part of his high school’s externship program.

“Being around that field, it struck me as something that I will enjoy doing,” said Carlos, who is pursuing a biological sciences degree.

Carlos graduated in May 2023 from Miami’s Christopher Columbus High School. He attended the Catholic private school on a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship made possible by corporate donations to the scholarship program. The scholarship is managed by Step Up For Students.

Last May, Carlos, with his parents, graduated fifth in a class of 434 from Miami's Christopher Columbus High School.

His work in the classroom was stellar – a 5.25 GPA over his four years, including 5.81 his senior year. He was ranked fifth in his graduating class of 434.

“I’ve always been a hard worker,” Carlos said, “and that was reinforced at Columbus with the amount of time and effort I had to put in, the sacrifices on the weekends to do homework and studying days prior to the actual exam for those difficult AP level courses.”

That discipline and those grades are why Nicholas Guitierrez and his wife, Maria, wanted a private school education for their three sons. Nicky, 20, Carlos, 18, and Eduardo, 14, each attended St. Brendan Elementary School. Eduardo is now a freshman at Columbus while Nicky, who has Down syndrome, is in the vocational program at their district high school. Nicky received a McKay Scholarship, which is now the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities.

“Catholic school is more conducive to not only good education, but also good values, a good environment, and good social connections. So that's why that was important to us,” Nicolas said. “There were times when economically it was a struggle, so we're very appreciative for the help that Step Up For Students provided.”

While at Columbus, Carlos also left his mark in the community when he helped organize a weekly soccer clinic for children and adults with Down syndrome. They include his brother Nicky.

Carlos developed a love for soccer after receiving a soccer goal for his 11th birthday. He and Nicky would play in the backyard of the family’s home in Coral Gables.

“We do that for days, pass the ball to each other, play against each other,” Carlos said. “That’s when I feel closest to my brother.”

So, as a means of earning volunteer hours during his junior and senior year at Columbus, Carlos ran the Saturday afternoon soccer clinic for the Down Syndrome Association of Miami. They included Nicky.

“I felt I could be a big help, and it was a lot of fun,” Carlos said.

He plans to continue running the clinics while attending college even though his course load at Miami will be more daunting than what he studied at Columbus. That all began because of the school’s externship program, where current students are matched with Columbus alumni.

Carlos was matched with Dr. Ricardo Calonge, a Columbus grad who earned his medical degree at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Carlos spent a week with Dr. Calonge, where he helped weigh patients and learned how to take a patient’s blood pressure.

Carlos hadn’t given any thought to becoming a physician until he saw the way Dr. Calonge interacted with his patients.

“He knows so much about them it’s almost like he’s part of their family,” Carlos said. “I feel like this is something I can be comfortable doing.”

Maria, Carlos, Nicky, Nicolas and Eduardo are big fans of the University of Miami's teams.

Carlos is currently taking his first steps at what will be a lengthy stay at the University of Miami. He is very familiar with the university: His father and grandfather are both alumni and he grew up attending Hurricane baseball games.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Miami,” he said. “The school has been a part of our family for generations.”

Carlos said he’s excited to start college.

“It’s a new beginning,” he said. “I’m even a little nervous but in a good way.”

He knows he’s as ready as he can be for the demands of studying premed and the eventual challenge of entering medical school. His time at Columbus prepared him for that, a time that was made possible by an education choice scholarship.

“It was part of my academic upbringing and helped me attend Columbus, which I really appreciate,” Carlos said. “I know that it was very important for my parents to send us through Catholic school. So, I’m grateful for Step Up to help us make ends meet when we really couldn't.”

Roger Mooney, manager, communications, can be reached at [email protected].

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Roger Mooney