Third year LASER Scholar Nicolas Fernandez tells of his journey to The Ohio State University.
My family emigrated from Colombia to Miami, Florida in 2011. Halfway through my senior year of high school, the process of applying to college was more stressful than I thought, and not being completely fluent in English added to my stress; I wasn’t sure whether my SAT writing and grammar scores would help me get anywhere at the time. Regardless of my doubts I had a desire to succeed and salir para adelante. My parents raised me with the philosophy that one can’t thrive without giving back to others. I was always taught to think about how we can succeed as a group and not as an individual. I didn’t realize the importance of this concept until I moved away from home.
I never visited The Ohio State University until the day of my orientation; I didn’t know how big the campus was or how good of a football team they had. I only knew they had a good engineering program. I was ready to take on the challenge of moving to another state where I didn’t know anyone. This changed once I got involved with student organizations on campus such as the College of Engineering Ambassadors, SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers), LSA (Latino Student Association) and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). Additionally, I joined diversity scholar groups such as LASER (Latino & Latin American Space for Enrichment and Research) and LSAMP (Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation). These organizations have impacted my professional and personal growth, showed me the importance of giving back to the community, and where I’ve met some of my best friends. With these groups I’ve collaborated in STEM events for K-12 students and their families to inform them about the opportunities offered in higher education, while also contributing to the Hispanic familia and bringing awareness on campus through culture presentations and events. My involvement in these organizations gave me the idea to take action on giving back to communities outside of my area.
Through my minor in humanitarian engineering, I was informed of the many study abroad programs Ohio State has to offer. My first service learning trip was during my second semester, where I traveled with a group of undergraduate engineering students to Montaña de Luz, an orphanage for kids with HIV and AIDS. Together we built sustainable/low cost projects such as an aquaponics system and wind turbine. Most importantly, we learned from the kids that no matter the situation we should always live life with big smile on our faces. My second study abroad was during my fourth semester, the Ohio State – Colombia Collaboration. With a similar concept, I traveled to South America to give workshops on electricity and how to build low cost LED flashlights to middle schools students. There were two main reasons that made this trip special: it was the first time I returned to Colombia since I moved to the States, and I was traveling with my older sister, Estefania Fernandez. I wasn’t able to visit the city where I grew up, but being back where my roots sprouted made me re-think all the sacrifices my family made for us to attend Ohio State and the goals I’ve set for my future.
During my time at Ohio State I’ve worked at the electrical and computer engineering department as a student assistant and as an undergraduate teaching assistant for the first-year engineering courses. Although I’ve learned much from these jobs, I still longed to obtain experience through internships designed on my area of focus in electrical engineering, power systems. My first experience with “the real world” was working as an associate engineer – electrical intern for ArcelorMittal in their Burns Harbor, Indiana plant. The experience of managing a project and working with union members, contractors, and engineers on a daily basis gave me a lot of experience with the atmosphere at a large manufacturing facility. I’m currently away from Ohio on an engineering Co-Op working as an electrical intern for Eaton’s South Milwaukee engineering high voltage lab, focusing on overcurrent protection equipment. While away from Ohio this semester, I was awarded a scholarship to attend the 2015 annual HACU (Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities) conference in Miami, Florida where unfortunately, I was the only student representing Ohio State. Due to the lack of representation, I’ve established a personal goal of communicating information about these opportunities on campus for more students to network with other minority groups from all around the country and participate in personal/professional workshops.
With my different experiences on and off campus, I’ve met many people who share my goals and aspirations for minorities to have a greater voice in today’s very diverse and growingpopulation. We must never forget where we come from and those who have helped us achieve our goals, reiterating the lesson my parents taught me: “Al que mucho se le dio, mucho se le exigirá.”