Imaging Sciences Student Spotlights

Student Spotlight: Military Vet Strengthens Faith, Discovers Career at AHU

Val Lara wanted to see the world and meet new people before settling into an education and career. To her, that meant spending four years as an ammunition technician in the U.S. Marines straight out of high school.

Her parents, who immigrated from Mexico and now live in Port St. Lucie, Fla., thought she was leaving home at such a young age. “They were shocked that I wanted to go into the military. They had big dreams for me,” Val said. “My Dad thought I could use the discipline, but my mom was worried. To me, going into the military felt safe.”

Valerie Lara and her husband

While stationed in California, Val met her husband, discovered her passion for health care, and learned about a tiny school called AdventHealth University. Today, at age 24, Val is on track to graduate with her Cardiovascular Sonography degree in Spring 2025, with 100 percent of her tuition covered through the GI Bill. She’s a familiar face at the front desk of the Campus Center, serving as a Student Ambassador, sharing her love for AHU with others.

“AHU has always been really welcoming. I was drawn to the natural beauty of the campus,” said Val, noting that she wanted a small school with a support network to help her get back into a learning mindset.

What Val didn’t count on was that her faith in God would grow alongside her classroom and clinical skills.

“I kind of felt that a lot of religion was open to debate. I didn’t really know anything about the Bible. A lot of the student workers here are religious. Some of my religion classes really made me change my perspective of God.”

Her deepening faith also strengthened her bond with her husband, Johnny Rodriguez. “He would overhear some of my Religion lectures online, and then we would talk about it later. Our relationship has grown.”

Val said she dreams of being a travel sonographer, which requires two years of experience as a sonographer. “One of my favorite things to do in the military was to go to different states, so I thought it would be nice to work for different health systems. Nothing will ever feel stagnant.”

Eventually, Lara would like to work as pediatric or fetal sonographer. “I really, really love children. I love how the heart works. I think it is super interesting that you can detect heart problems at a young age so they can be helped and live a long, prosperous life.”

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