After graduating high school at the age of 16, I left my native Venezuela and moved to Miami, Florida, with the goal of becoming an electrical engineer. The following year, I started my undergraduate studies at Florida International University (FIU) and was scheduled to graduate as an electrical engineer in December 1998.
Unfortunately, on October 6, 1998, two months shy of graduation, I had a car accident in front of the university. A car ran a red light and hit the car that I was in, flipping us over three times and eventually landing us upside down. I was airlifted to the hospital where I was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury at the C5 - C7 level, which left me paralyzed from the neck down (quadriplegic). I was in the intensive care unit for two weeks connected to machines that helped me breathe. Then, I had a neck fusion surgery and was transferred to the rehabilitation department.
I had no choice but to withdraw from the semester and was unable to graduate in December as planned. Suddenly I could not move, walk, write, drive, eat by myself or play sports. All the things that I had taken for granted were gone. I had to regroup and assimilate what had just happened. I now depended on others for the simplest things, and I no longer had privacy. Daily activities tested my patience, and I realized that the way I chose to react to this unexpected new reality would affect the rest of my life. I could either give up or confront these challenges directly and continue achieving my goals.
I knew I had to keep going and finish what I started. With the unconditional love and support of my family and close friends, I persevered. For the first few days of January 1999, I attended school from the hospital before finally being discharged. I completed my last semester at FIU and attended the graduation ceremony in April.
I immediately continued with my graduate studies, and in 2002 I completed my master’s degree in electrical engineering. During graduate school, I was a founding member and manager of FIU’s VLSI (Very Large Scale Integrated Circuits) Laboratory where I helped bring in donations for the study and development of complex integrated circuits. After completing my master’s, I continued my graduate studies to obtain a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at FIU. I based my doctoral dissertation on creating an electronic system capable of segmentally calculating the human body composition. This allowed me to not only meet the requirements for graduation, but also provided an opportunity for me to help people with physical disabilities like mine get better assessments of their physical conditions.
Since receiving my Ph.D. in electrical engineering in December 2007, I have taught electrical engineering classes at FIU and Miami Dade College, worked as an electrical engineer and have participated in projects like flight control electronics and autonomous vehicle system.
In April 2020, I was offered a position at L3Harris. I mentioned that I was very interested, but at the same time it was very difficult for me to relocate because I had already modified my house to be more accessible. I have ramps for my wheelchair, a roll-in shower, wider doors, etc. The recruiter called me back a few days later and told me they would offer me a remote position. Now, I have been working at L3Harris over three years.
I am proud to be surrounded by so many intelligent and caring people that have helped me grow, both personally and professionally. It could have been very easy to quit and not achieve my goal of becoming an electrical engineer, but I realized that there are always far worse positions to be in. I share this story to encourage everyone to continue pursuing their dreams. Feeling sorry for yourself will not help you get past your hardships and could hold you back instead. Overcoming challenges is by no means easy, but staying focused on your ultimate goal can turn dreams into reality.