Business graduate overcomes boundaries to rise to the challenge

May 16, 2024

Claudio Cabrera holding up his diploma

By believing in himself and setting goals to overcome boundaries, Claudio Cabrera ’24 rose to the challenge of completing an exceptional academic journey at Quinnipiac’s School of Business.

Cabrera earned his bachelor of science with honors from the School of Business and the achievement capped as a very significant personal goal.

“I consider myself a very ambitious person, a goal-seeker,” said Cabrera. “I didn’t focus on my disability, I just focused on my goal. And my goal was to be as independent as I could and graduate, and I did it.”

Five years ago, Cabrera, a promising soccer player, experienced a life-changing event in his native country of Chile.

“I had a car accident which left me in a wheelchair. At that time, I was almost ready to start college to study business,” said Cabrera. “As you can imagine, my life changed. All my plans changed. I had to cancel everything and focus 100% on my recovery and my physical therapy. At the same time, college was always on my mind. I thought, ‘How am I going to be able to go to school?’”

Through a family friend in the U.S., Cabrera learned that Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, Connecticut had a specialized program for his incomplete spinal injury. The same family friend also suggested Cabrera look into Quinnipiac to pursue his dream of studying business.

Cabrera also worked to improve his English.

“I knew a very basic level, but to study in college and finance and very specific subjects in the business program, I wasn’t sure that was enough. I studied English myself for a year and did all the requirements and tests. I studied ESL online and I also had a tutor,” he said. “At Quinnipiac, daily conversations in class with my friends helped me to improve my pronunciation and my accent.” 

Cabrera began his studies at Quinnipiac while continuing daily physical therapy sessions. He also became involved in adaptive sports through Gaylord Hospital, completing two marathons. Additionally, he set his sights on another goal: reaching the top of Sleeping Giant State Park.

“One day I was watching a documentary about this guy who climbed Everest, and I said, ‘OK I want to do this, but here at Sleeping Giant. It may not be Everest, but it's close enough,’” said Cabrera.

Cabrera pitched the broad strokes of the concept to faculty at the School of Health Sciences as a physical therapy capstone project. The idea became a capstone project, “Hiking without Boundaries,” for a team of physical therapy students who collaborated with Cabrera. With assistance from Gaylord Hospital, the capstone project equipped the school with a GRIT lever-controlled mountain bike. In 2020, Cabrera made the inaugural climb.

“I was the first person to climb Sleeping Giant in a wheelchair, but the main goal wasn’t really for me. I wanted other people to use the equipment and enjoy this opportunity,” said Cabrera. “They’re still using it as a capstone project, and today, as many as 15 people have climbed Sleeping Giant with different disabilities.”

Cabrera said he would also like to thank many of his fellow Bobcats for their kindness on campus.

“I just want to say thank you to all the people who gave me a hand. Even small details, like when I dropped something in the hallway, or to get the door for me. They were a really important part of my journey at Quinnipiac,” said Cabrera. “I think as young people, we have the ability to change the world and be nice with each other. I think that if we work as a team in society, we can accomplish great things all together.”

Cabrera also thanks the Office of Student Accessibility, including its director, Kate Palumbo, for working with him to improve his on-campus experience.

“They helped with all the details I needed, from fixing doors to putting an adjustable table for me in each classroom. They worked very hard to make me feel more comfortable and accessible,” said Cabrera.

To help students with disabilities in the future, Cabrera served as a student representative for the new School of Business building committee.

“I gave my advice for the new building committee in terms of accessibility — the restroom, the tables, all details that people may not think about because they don’t need it. But for us to succeed in school, it’s very important to have all the equipment and requirements according to our needs,” he said.

As an undergrad, Cabrera was also a member of Quinnipiac's Investment Club and participated in the CFA Institute Research Challenge and GAME (Global Asset Management Education) Forum. As a member of the National Honor Society of the Financial Management Associations International, Cabrera received a scholarship in his final semester.

“It was a great achievement for me because I wasn’t expecting to graduate with honors,” said Cabrera.

Even as he launches his career with a Connecticut investment firm this summer, Cabrera has future goals in mind.

“I will be in a great one- or two-year analyst program; but I really want to start my own company as soon as I can. So my next goal is going to be getting the knowledge and getting the experience so I can have my own business,” he said.

As he recently shared with School of Business Dean Holly Raider, Cabrera also intends to work toward establishing two Quinnipiac scholarships: one to benefit students with disabilities studying business, and another for aspiring international business students from Chile.

“I had a meeting with Dean Raider, and I made a promise that one day, when I’ve become so successful, I want to create my own scholarships. That is something I want to do in the very short term so I can give the opportunity to other people,” said Cabrera.

Cabrera said he wants to help those with a disability experience the benefits of being a part of Quinnipiac’s academic community.

“When you have an accident like I did, you think your life is over. I would like to be the person who can give them hope. I think education is the best way to give any person the intellectual skills and the preparation to become independent to get a job; and also to develop their social skills. I met so many friends and made so many connections,” said Cabrera. “I want to encourage them to go out, meet new people, set new goals, and go for it.”

As an international student, Cabrera said he’s glad he chose the School of Business for his academic journey and wants to pay that forward to future students from Chile.

“I really want to provide a scholarship for a student from Chile to experience being a Quinnipiac student, which is amazing. Because here, you meet people from all over the world. My best friends from Quinnipiac are from Argentina, from Spain, from Norway. Quinnipiac really has a place in my heart, and the School of Business is really growing, so it’s a great place for an international student.”

Experiencing graduation with his Quinnipiac family, as his mother and sister cheered for him, was a memorable day for Cabrera, for many reasons.

“It was a day to celebrate because all of the hard work was over. I feel that when you think big, when you dream big, and you work hard enough, there’s no way you will fail, if you really believe in yourself,” he said. “It was a challenging journey, as you can imagine. But at the end, all that made me stronger, and I met a lot of friends who really helped me here.”

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