First-gen transfer student 'goes for it' at UHCL, finds support and mentorship
Students who transfer from one college to another sometimes face the unique struggle of attempting to join a community from a completely different starting point. University of Houston-Clear Lake has a significant transfer student population, but for Osvaldo Rodriguez, assimilating into the university community was easy and he felt at home immediately. Rodriguez, who is also a first-generation college student, believes enrolling at UH-Clear Lake was the best possible option for him to complete his undergraduate degree in computer engineering and then begin his master's program.
"I got my associate's in math from San Jacinto College in December 2019 and transferred to UHCL," Rodriguez said. "I feel that everything about this university is welcoming, and I have a sense of freedom that I will be allowed to make mistakes and find myself here."
With a lifelong dream to work at NASA and ultimately become an astronaut, UHCL's proximity to Johnson Space Center was also a factor in his decision to enroll. "Ever since I can remember, I wanted to work at NASA in space exploration, and learn about that side of engineering. Going to space has always been a dream of mine," he said.
Rodriguez describes his parents as "old-school Hispanics" who wanted him to start working right after his graduation from Pasadena High School. "I knew that I wouldn't work at NASA unless I go to college," he said. "I love learning and I didn't want to be complacent. Without school I wouldn't have the exposure and experience I need for a career and to propel myself toward who I want to be."
He said he knew college wasn't necessarily for everyone, but in order to be honest with himself and stay true to his career aspirations, college was a requirement in order for those doors to open. "I went to San Jac not knowing how college worked," he said. "I started working in valet parking for extra money, but that job was not very fulfilling. A professor at San Jac encouraged me to apply for an internship at NASA, which I did. I got it and I had always imagined what it would be like to work there, but it blew me away! I said, this is definitely what I want."
After sticking to basic courses at San Jac, Rodriguez said he had to figure out how to go about a degree plan and how to make sure credits would transfer. "The transfer process to UHCL was seamless," he said. "It was much easier than I thought. People were helpful and welcoming and I could feel the professors genuinely cared. My professors have always been willing to make time for me."
As a Hispanic student, he said that he feels he's being equipped to gain the needed tools to start his hoped-for career at NASA. "I'm now on my third internship at NASA," he said. "I think it's about taking the initiative and asking yourself, do you want to learn something? If you are intent to do something, you have to be present and put in the effort."
He hopes to become a flight controller at NASA and work in the astronaut office, to gain experience for when he submits his own application to become an astronaut. "I think of Clay Anderson, who became an astronaut after applying 14 times," he said. "Getting that many rejections must have taken its toll, but that inspired me. There are times when I feel I can't do it. I'm a first-gen student and the path was not laid out for me, but I have found guidance and I've connected with mentors and profs along the way."
(Associate Professor of Computer Engineering) Hakduran Koc is among the professors who has impacted Rodriguez. "He's truly interested in his students, and I don't believe I would have had such a genuine connection with my profs at another school, especially through the pandemic," he said.
Any minority, first-generation, transfer student unsure about college, Rodriguez said, should just be honest with themselves. "For a long time I was afraid and lacked confidence, so I understand others' hesitation," he said. "If you know you have to get an education to do what you truly want to do, it's just as simple as stepping forward. The experiences and the mentors will come along. I wouldn't be fulfilling my life's purpose if I had taken the easy way out and said college was too expensive and hard. Who knows where I'd be? For potential students who are looking at college as their path, you should go for it!"
To learn more about UHCL's Computer Engineering program, go online.