Born in Jakarta, Calvin Herman spent the first 11 years of his life on the outskirts of Indonesia’s capital with his family and three siblings. While attending school, he learned a bit of English, but not much beyond the basics.
After the 6th grade, Herman—along with his grandmother and younger sister—immigrated to the U.S. They lived with Herman’s aunt and uncle in Queens, who had been in the States for more than a decade, but continued to speak mostly Bahasa Indonesia at home.
“The language barrier was a huge culture shock for me,” recalls Herman. “For the first few months, I couldn’t really understand what the teacher was saying at school, and I couldn’t communicate with friends.”
As he began to fall behind during that first year at PS/IS 102 Queens, Herman enrolled in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program to accelerate his English skills. But he also had a more unconventional way to catch up.
“I started watching PBS kids shows like Curious George to pick up conversational English,” Herman says. “I would go to the library and read children’s books and talk with the librarians to try to immerse myself in the language.”
Herman continued living with his aunt and uncle for a further six years, developing a deep love for science along the way. In the 10th grade at Manhattan Hunter Science High School, he took a course called “Research Techniques Facility” through Hunter College’s biology department, and as a senior he took a few more college-level classes in the biotechnology program.
“I essentially started as a bio major at Hunter while I was still in high school,” says Herman. “I still had that affinity for math and science, which led me to receive a scholarship and enroll at Macaulay.”
Herman hit the ground running that first year, landing an internship in Benjamin Ortiz’s research laboratory studying gene regulation within immune cells. In his second year, he undertook an internship at another prestigious lab studying stem cell biology and bone regeneration. He then studied mobile genetic elements in bacteria over two consecutive summers at MIT. Over the course of his undergraduate career, he has received a number of accolades, including Hunter’s Promising Young Investigator Award and a Futures Initiative Undergraduate Leadership Fellowship from the CUNY Graduate Center. Recently, he was selected as a Horace W. Goldsmith Scholar at Macaulay.
“One of the best things about Macaulay for me has been the support,” says Herman. “I’m a shy person and was anxious about college, but the first time I met my advisor, she put me right at ease. She’s very welcoming and offers a safe space to talk about anything; over the years, we have developed a true friendship.”
As Herman looks ahead to graduation next year, it’s no surprise that he has a lot of goals, including treating patients and helping people—especially immigrants—navigate and understand the healthcare environment, continuing to conduct research, and becoming an educator.
“Thanks to the rigorous education I have received at Macaulay and Hunter, I feel prepared for what my future brings,” says Herman.