Seizing her opportunity
Florida Opportunity Scholar Heather Loran overcomes challenges to get to UF
By Allyson Fox
The day Heather Loran received her acceptance into UF, like many incoming freshmen, her life took a big turn in the right direction.
But the road to get there was not easy. Growing up, her dad was in prison and her mom abandoned her and her siblings when she was 11.
Some would have thought, given the circumstances, that these obstacles were too big to overcome.
But she proved everyone wrong.
Loran, a student in the College of Public Health and Health Professions, became the first person in her family to go to college, and she hopes to become a physician assistant. After she received her acceptance to UF, she became a Florida Opportunity Scholar, a scholarship program for first-generation students from low-income families.
“The scholarship has made a huge difference,” Loran said. “I don’t need to take out loans.”
Loran knew she wanted to become a physician assistant after shadowing and volunteering at different medical facilities. She loved being in the medical field and specifically appreciated the work of physician assistants.
“I like the flexibility of being a physician assistant,” she said. “The majority of people are (often) seen by PAs.”
Today she is following her dream, and Loran believes the struggles she faced growing up have helped her adjust to college.
Raised by her grandparents, she had a lot of freedom prior to college and learned how to use it wisely. She didn’t have people nagging her to do her work, but she knew it needed to get done to be successful.
She also balanced two jobs in high school, which taught her how to manage money. And with scholarships coming her way, she already knew exactly how to budget.
Although school takes up a lot of Loran’s time, she manages to stay active on campus.
She is the service chair for the Pre-physician Assistant Association, the public relations chair for Gator EMS, a Florida Opportunity Scholars mentor, a CPR instructor at RecSports and a member of Alpha Epsilon Delta, a pre-health honor society.
“I really found my place, and I’m involved on campus,” she said.
Leslie Pendleton, director of the Florida Opportunity Scholars Program, said three key words describe the program’s students: independent, gracious and resilient.
Loran is no exception.
“She’s really done a good job integrating herself on campus,” Pendleton said. “She’s passionate about what she does, but it will also benefit her in her career.”
Loran became a Florida Opportunity Scholars mentor because she wanted to give back to the program that gave so much to her.
As a mentor, it is her job just to be there for first-year students who need advice or guidance. Sometimes it’s easier to approach a peer, she said. She recalls receiving a phone call from a mentee at 11 p.m., asking her how to get home from Best Buy.
“The friendships and meeting new people are the best part (of UF),” Loran said. “I met my best friend through my major.”