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High achiever: First-generation college student embarks on elevating journey at ASU

Yoslin Herrera (flashing the Arizona State University Sun Devil “pitchfork” hand sign) recently began her sophomore year in pursuit of an aerospace engineering degree in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Photo by Pete Zrioka/ASU

September 09, 2016

As a young teen, Yoslin Herrera found herself going to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near her family’s home in Tucson just to watch military jets and other aircraft take off and land.

Within a few years, her fascination with flight lead her to choose aerospace engineering as a major when she began her freshman year at Arizona State University in fall  2015.

Herrera says ASU is providing a springboard to boost the upward flight trajectory that she had already begun years before going to college.

Busy high school years

At Empire High School near Tucson she was a straight-A student and a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish National Honor Society.

She served on the student government council, including a stint as vice president, and as treasurer of the school’s chapter of SkillsUSA, an organization that focuses on preparing students to be leaders in technical, skilled and service occupations.

Herrera also competed in the Science Olympiad, a national high school team competition focusing on science and engineering skills.

She was on the track and field team — competing in cross-country and 200 meter races, the shot put and the discus throw, and in one season qualified for the state finals in the discus throw.

She supported some of the school’s other sports teams by joining her sister as a cheerleader. In her junior year, she was named an All-American in the Universal Dance Association’s cheerleading section and a Universal Cheerleaders Association All-American in her senior year.

Achievements opened up opportunities

Motivated by a growing interest in aerospace-related pursuits, during her senior year she landed an internship with the Paragon Space Development Corporation, which designs, builds and tests life-support systems and related technologies for astronauts, contaminated water divers and unmanned Earth and space exploration.

student in lab

In preparation for a career in aerospace engineering, Herrera has worked as an intern during her senior year in high school and in the summer after her freshman year at ASU with a company that designs, builds and tests life-support technologies for aeronautical and astronautical endeavors in Earth and space exploration. Photograph provided by Paragon Space Development Corporation.

Those myriad achievements earned Herrera acceptance to schools with prominent engineering programs, including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Virginia Tech, in addition to ASU and the University of Arizona.

She chose ASU’s Barrett, the Honors College, and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering “because I liked their idea of ‘being an engineer from day one’ when you’re a freshman. It looked like they gave students more hands-on engineering experiences and research opportunities,” she said.

Challenging scholarship program

Herrera’s opportunities as a student — and her responsibilities — expanded considerably even before the start of her first semester, when she was accepted into one of the Dorrance Scholarship Programs.

The programs funded by philanthropists Jacquie and Bennett Dorrance through the Arizona Community Foundation awards scholarships each year to 37 incoming freshmen who are in the first generation in their families to attend college. Twenty-seven of these scholarships are awarded to students at each of Arizona’s three state universities — nine students at each of the state universities — and 10 are awarded to students at the University of Hawaii in Hilo.

Dorrance Scholars must maintain a 3.0 grade point average, perform community service and participate in the program’s activities aimed at developing students’ academic, entrepreneurship and leadership skills.

The program's overall goals are not only to produce more and better college graduates but to inspire scholarship recipients to go on to contribute to society as conscientious citizens and professionals.

Fast-paced freshman year

For Herrera, winning a Dorrance scholarship meant having to hit the ground running soon after she decided to come to ASU.

Before fall classes started she participated in the Dorrance Summer Bridge Program at Northern Arizona University, which included taking advanced math and English courses.

During her freshman year she became one of the Fulton Ambassadors, a student group that helps to promote ASU’s engineering program to prospective students.

She volunteered at the Phoenix Zoo to help inform the public about wildlife preservation and worked with the ASU Arboretum project to help keep campus garden areas and green spaces spruced up.

She also found time to work part-time as a barista at a campus café during the school year.

This past summer she went back to the Paragon company, with a promotion to a paid internship position, in which she got a bit of experience in everything from marketing and data analysis to product research and testing.

The summer also included a three-week environmental education program in which students explored parts of the Colorado Plateau region in northern Arizona and southern Utah as part of the Dorrance Summer Conservation Experience.

Overseas educational journey

Herrera's Dorrance Scholars group recently departed for a semester studying abroad in Europe, starting with more than a week of volunteer work helping Habitat for Humanity build homes in Krakow, Poland.

From Poland, the group goes to the town of Orvieto, Italy, where they will be immersing themselves in local culture while undertaking an intensive humanities program focusing on studies of classical English, Greek and Roman literature and history.

They’ll also travel to several locales throughout Italy to see some of the places where the historic events they are studying about actually happened.

“I’m so excited about doing all of this. My whole family is excited about this,” Herrera said.

“We did not have a lot growing up,” she says of herself and her three siblings, “so just going to go to college is a big thing. But doing all these great things the Dorrance Scholarship lets you do, this is just crazy. It’s like winning the lottery. We’re so grateful for this.”

Entrepreneurship and internship are next

When she returns to ASU’s Tempe campus for the 2017 spring semester, Herrera plans to join some student organizations and look for research projects to get involved in.

She is already eyeing enrollment in a Fulton Schools Accelerated 4+1 degree program that enables students to earn an engineering master’s degree with an additional year of study after earning an undergraduate degree.

In addition, her college road map includes a Dorrance Scholar entrepreneurship course and a related project in the summer of 2017, and then an internship in her engineering field during the summer of 2018 before her senior year.

Ambitious goals for the future

Along the way, Herrera sees herself continuing to be driven to excel by the passion that emerged as she watched aircraft fly in and out Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

“In aerospace engineering you are always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, and I love the idea of someday being part of doing something that makes the impossible possible,” she said.

“Aeronautics is my concentration within my major, but I see myself going into astronautics, too,” she added. “It would be great to get the chance to dedicate my career to progress in exploring outer space.”

It’s seems a fitting goal considering what Herrera has been told about the meaning of her unusual first name — that in the Spanish lexicon Yoslin derives from a word that can mean “someone with a strong need for freedom … as well as a desire for continuous achievement.”

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