By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart
You never know when a perfectly worded Google search will pull up a life-changing opportunity. For Engineering Science A.S. student, Alejandro Chavarria Gonzalez, a quick scan of the over 156,000,000 Google results for “scholarships for Hispanic students,” eventually rippled to him being named one of the top Hispanic engineering students in the nation by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation. In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15th – October 15th, Chavarria Gonzalez, now more than ever, deeply understands his responsibility to share information about his rich cultural heritage and to celebrate the contributions made by Hispanic Americans in every professional and cultural discipline.
Alejandro Chavarria Gonzalez spent the first thirteen years of his life in Jalisco and Chihuahua, Mexico. The summer before seventh grade, Alejandro’s father accepted a transfer position with Universal Instruments that required relocating the Gonzalez family to Broome County. Both of Alejandro’s parents were English teachers, so he had a solid foundation in speaking and understanding English, but his writing and grammar skills needed further development.
“I had wonderful teachers at Windsor who really encouraged my success as a student learning English as my second language. I never once considered giving up because of their support,” said Gonzalez.
As a bright, highly motivated student, Gonzalez spent his senior year of high school as a participant in BOCES’ New Visions (Engineering) program, which happened to be housed in a classroom/lab in SUNY Broome’s Applied Technology Building. Every morning, Alejandro came to campus to participate in immersive instruction in the field of engineering. His positive experiences with the New Visions program, coupled with his familiarization with campus, solidified Gonzalez’s decision to study Engineering Science at SUNY Broome.
“The New Visions program helped me to explore all of the opportunities within the field of engineering and I learned that SUNY Broome’s engineering science program could provide the foundation for any engineering discipline, especially industrial/systems engineering, which is what I hope to pursue. I would love to manage a hospital someday and use my skills as an engineer to analyze the medical center comprehensively and develop ways for it to run more efficiently and provide better medical care,” shared Gonzalez.
The application process to SUNY Broome was short and sweet, so Alejandro refocused his efforts towards funding his education. At the time, there was some uncertainty about his VISA status and whether he would be eligible for financial assistance. In an effort to proactively secure funds for college, he began aggressively applying for scholarships, both internally through SUNY Broome’s Foundation and externally. While looking online for “scholarships for Hispanic students,” Alejandro came across the Hispanic Heritage Foundation and their Youth Awards program. This highly competitive scholarship program awards grants to Latino high school seniors who excel academically and outside of the classroom in the fields of business & entrepreneurship, community service, education, engineering, green sustainability, healthcare & science, media & entertainment, public service & social justice, and technology.
“The HHF divides the nation into regions and then has ten categories per region. I completed the application and submitted a series of essays that were reviewed by the committee. I was awarded the silver award for the engineering category for our region. This was the first scholarship that I received and I was so shocked and honored,” said Gonzalez.
On the SUNY Broome front, Alejandro was named a recipient of SUNY Broome’s most prestigious scholarship, the Presidential Honors Scholarship. Presidential Honors Scholars are in the top 10% of their graduating high school class and are selected based on their academic achievements and their community involvement through activities such as tutoring, volunteering, club participation, athletics, and more. This scholarship, funded by generous donors, covers a PHS student’s full tuition for up to two years at SUNY Broome.
Through his new ties to the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, Alejandro was contacted by their LOFT (Latinos on Fast Track) program, which works to connect Latino college students and professionals to promote career exploration, workforce development, leadership and mentorship relationships, and networking opportunities. Gonzalez was invited to attend the LOFT Institute in Washington, D.C. in September of 2022 to connect with other Latino students from around the nation in an open summit format to learn about and collaborate on the public policies focused on providing opportunities and resources for the country’s Hispanic population.
“My experiences at the LOFT Institute in Washington, D.C. were incredible and definitely transformative for me. It reinvigorated my connection to my culture and encouraged and inspired me to take a more active role in sharing information with friends and classmates who may not have had exposure to our rich culture,” shared Gonzalez.
One way that Alejandro is putting his positive experiences with HHF and LOFT into action is by being an active member of SUNY Broome’s International Students Organization (ISO). The International Students Organization is not just reserved for SUNY Broome’s international student population. To the contrary, the ISO welcomes anyone who is interested in learning about different cultures and developing friendships with students from around the world.
When Gonzalez is not in class, working as a Spanish tutor, serving as a Student Assembly Senator, or present at an ISO meeting, he is balancing his time on campus by attempting to create two new, very different, clubs for his fellow SUNY Broome students.
“I got into knitting during my senior year of high school and am hoping to start a knitting club on campus with a goal of knitting baby and children’s hats for area hospitals. I also am working with the Athletic Office to hopefully start a racket sports club that would offer all season, accessible activities including tennis, badminton, pickle-ball, and ping pong.”
When asked about how his fellow students should be celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month, Alejandro was quick to admit that he is still trying to figure that out for himself. In the meantime, he offers three suggestions for fun mini-celebrations to finish up the month.
Eat: Empanadas (preferably his mom’s recipe which he is hoping to prepare for a future ISO cultural luncheon.)
Listen To: La Gozadera (feat. Marc Anthony) by Gente De Zona and Marc Anthony
Learn About: Julie Chávez Rodríguez (American political rights activist and the Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.)