At age 44, I decided to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming an engineer. I held an associate’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UMass) and had been working as an engineering technician at a defense company. I only needed to complete a few more classes to earn my bachelor’s degree. I wasn’t too keen on entering a classroom at my age, but thanks to my family’s encouragement, I took on the challenge. I enrolled in the only ABET-accredited night program in Puerto Rico that would transfer credits toward a degree at UMass.
I worked full time while taking classes, leaving my job at 4 p.m. and driving two hours to school and back. Sometimes I would get home at midnight or later, then would have to start work at 8 a.m. the next day (a couple of times I went the whole night without sleep). On more than one occasion during class, other students asked if I was the professor. I would just smile, say “no” and brush it off. I studied on the weekends and during any free time I could find. One of my sons struggled with health issues and there were times I needed to be with him at the hospital. Managing everything felt overwhelming. Engineering is a difficult discipline and demands a lot of your time. I failed some of my classes. But despite these challenges, I never thought of quitting. I had a deep desire and goal to be an engineer and l wanted to make my family proud.
During many of those long nights of commuting back and forth to class, my daughter called me from Iowa where she was studying to become a veterinarian. We would talk about our mutual frustrations with college, life and everything in between. These talks helped me get through those hard nights. My wife and two sons also offered encouragement – I was so close!
In April 2018, I received a letter from my advisor at UMass, congratulating me for completing the requisites for my bachelor’s degree with a 2.99 GPA. My wife was with me. We knelt and thanked God. I had accomplished my goal, and my daughter graduated that same year! This wasn’t my only long held dream. Back in 1987, when I was engaged to my future wife, I told her I wanted to buy a Ford Mustang. She gave me a choice between the car or the wedding. I made the right choice at the time, and decades later, I received the best graduation present I could ask for – a 2016, 5.0 Mustang.
In February 2022, I joined L3Harris – a dream come true. The team I’m part of is composed of extraordinary professionals. I’ve had an exceptional experience and I don’t know if I’ll ever retire! My journey to where I am today was long and never easy, but my family and my heritage got me through it. We Puerto Ricans are positive, resilient people. In recent years we’ve endured hurricanes and earthquakes, not to mention the pandemic. When life tries to slow us down, we brush it off, keep going and never look back. If you’re dedicated to your goals, it’s possible to achieve them at any age. I’m proof of that.