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College opened doors of opportunity for first-generation student

December 08, 2010

For some students, higher education opens doors that they didn’t even know were there. This is a fact that Victor Robles, a first-generation college student, knows firsthand.

Robles, who is graduating from ASU this month with a major in electrical engineering, comes from the small Arizona border town of Douglas, where he continually “flew under the radar” in high school. While not a bad student, he was not in the top 20 percent of his class.

“In Douglas, most people choose to either work for the U.S. Border Patrol, customs, or the state prison when they graduate from high school,” explains Robles. “I didn’t want to do any of those, so I decided to try community college.”

At Cochise Community College, Robles quickly learned that he had a strong affinity for math and science. He chose to major in physics, and soon discovered the possibilities within the field of engineering.

“My counselor at CCC was extremely encouraging. She made me feel like it’d be possible for me to take my education even further,” says Robles. “And as I progressed at CCC, my classes started to get smaller and smaller. I couldn’t fly under the radar anymore. In my Calculus III class, I was one of only three students. The professor literally taught us in the faculty lounge. While other teachers were in there making copies and drinking coffee, we were having class.”

As he prepared to graduate from CCC, Robles toured both ASU and the University of Arizona. “ASU was extremely welcoming, and I immediately wanted to become a part of this engineering community,” he explains.

Once at ASU, Robles became involved with the university’s Motivating Engineering Transfer Students (METS) center, especially since it was one of the things that drew him here in the first place. Anita Grierson, the METS center director, has become a great mentor for Robles, and he now works for the METS center as an outreach coordinator.

At METS, Robles stays busy planning presentations and recruitment activities for students at area community colleges and high schools—including his alma mater, Douglas High.

Grierson is quick to praise Robles and his hard work. “Victor is a role model for other students at the METS center and is giving other students some of that encouragement that was so essential to him,” she says. “He’s a great example for other students about what is possible and is a wonderful reminder to our broader ASU community about the value of giving students advice and encouragement along the way.”

Robles also joined the Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists (MAES) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), both groups that have given him numerous opportunities to conduct research and present at conferences. In addition, he has worked with Professor Mary Anderson-Rowland on the National Science Foundation funded research and student support program. In that program, students are strongly encouraged to seek REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) summer positions.

Just in his time at ASU, Robles has researched and presented on a variety of topics, including wind generator simulations and laser direct-write fabrication of optical waveguides. Last summer, he participated in a photonics research program through REU called “Hooked on Photonics,” where he was able to spend long hours in the lab and really focus on his research.

Following graduation this semester, Robles will continue as a graduate student at ASU and is already looking ahead towards getting his PhD. He has become the vice-president of MAES at ASU and is excited to do more research and presenting as a graduate student.

“I’m very interested in optical engineering and telecommuncations, and plan to do more research into signal processing for holographic applications and medical imaging,” he says.

“Dr. Anderson-Rowland, Anita Grierson, and all the other professors I’ve been able to work with at ASU have showed me how many opportunities there are in engineering,” says Robles. “I’ve already come further than I ever could have imagined and I’m ready to take education to the highest level I can.”

Contributed by Jeanne Schaser