Helping Vets, Shaping Academic Focus Through Dagger Dive
As a kid growing up in Tampa, Fla., Preston Perez ’22 was always close to the water. “My family does a lot of bonding activities around the ocean,” he said. At age 10, Perez got his scuba diving certification; a few years later, he began volunteering with the Dagger Dive program of Task Force Dagger, an organization that supports members of the Special Operations Forces community.
Dagger Dive is a 10-day program that aims to rehabilitate service members and their families through scuba diving. Participants learn the technical skills needed to dive safely before exploring the waters of Key West. “The week of learning, diving, and family-centric activities rebuilds the relationships between parents and children and spouses, healing the whole family,” according to the Dagger Dive website.
Hometown: Tampa, Fla.
High School: Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School
Since he started with Dagger Dive in 2012, Perez has been involved in the program nearly every summer. “From back then until now, I would just be role-modeling how to [dive],” he said. “It’s kind of a family thing — my brother also does it, my dad and mom come and help with different parts of it. It’s really awesome.”
As a fixture of Perez’s formative years, Dagger Dive has been influential in shaping his academic focus at Hamilton. Most prevalent among the various ailments of the service members, he said, are the “invisible injuries” — traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, and other neurological conditions. “Throughout the years, I noticed that it’s not the obvious injuries that are hurting people the most,” Perez explained.
Always interested in medicine and intending to pursue a pre-med track, Perez decided to study neuroscience to learn more about these conditions. At Hamilton, he is working with Professor of Biology Herm Lehman on his senior thesis, which will study traumatic brain injuries in fruit flies. In particular, the thesis will focus on the process of administering to the flies such injuries, as well as determining a reliable method by which to certify their presence afterward.
This summer, Perez is interning at Johns Hopkins University in its pulmonary and critical care medicine division where he works with physician-scientists. His job consists of processing data on a disease called pulmonary arterial hypertension. Perez said the position has introduced him to the basics of what a physician-scientist does.
Aside from its relevance to his academic interests, Perez’s internship, which is remote, also allowed him to participate in Dagger Dive 2021. “I was working all morning, kind of strange hours — and then in the middle of the day, during events, I was diving and doing different things with the family,” he said. “It was a really fun week.”