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First-Generation College Student Gets Most Out of Campus Times

May 27, 2014

Leon Profile

Student Leader: Jorge-Luis Leon, a graduating mechanical engineering student, has been a member of Rose-Hulman’s residence life staff for three years, president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and involved in the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

Members of Rose-Hulman’s Class of 2014 will have a variety of emotions when their final walk through campus leads to receiving their diplomas during the institute’s 136th commencement on Saturday, May 31.

However, the biggest smile may be on the face of Jorge-Luis Leon, a first-generation college graduate from Ecuador who has been a respected student leader throughout the past four years.

“I’ve lived Rose-Hulman to the fullest,” the mechanical engineering major admits.

Leon has been a member of the residence life staff for three years, helping hundreds of students make the transition to college life; served as president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, expanding campus diversity; and has been campus involvement chair of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, one of the nation’s top chapters.

His popularity among his senior classmates was readily apparent as he waited outside a campus building before a recent commencement rehearsal. Nearly every student met Leon with a congratulatory greeting, amusing thought, or kind word of praise.

“Rose-Hulman has been home away from home for me. There’s a close-knit, family feeling that makes this such a special place. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else,” he says.

Leon had never been to Indiana before arriving on campus during the fall of 2010 in search of an engineering degree at an American college. His appreciation of education came from his mother, a high school teacher in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city. Meanwhile, his father, a farmer, instilled a love of engineering, science, and technology. A beloved grandmother also provided encouragement along the way.

Rose-Hulman coursework was supplemented with internships at General Electric Company and The Boeing Company, and he spent a portion of last summer at the Harvard Venture in Management Program.

“I always wanted to be an aerospace engineer. I saw aerospace as a way to bring people together throughout the world in a safe manner,” he says. “I love the engineering mindset and solving problems.”

A dream job building short- to medium-range twinjet airliners with Boeing awaits after graduation. He’s also been accepted into Harvard Business School’s prestigious 2+2 Program, which provides leadership practice immersed in real-world challenges. That opportunity may be accepted in the future.

“Rose-Hulman has opened so many doors for me,” Leon states. “Professors and staff members have helped get me through tough times, brought out the best in me, and helped hone my skills. I’m looking forward to getting such great opportunities after graduation.”

Tom Miller, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of student affairs, adds, “Jorge-Luis is respected by faculty and his fellow students as a dedicated and hardworking individual. He is a trusted friend and fellow student who genuinely cares about the success of others.”

That’s why Leon will be thinking about others during Saturday’s commencement procession through the campus he adores.

“I’ve been looking forward to graduation for some time. During past commencements, I have noticed all of the smiles on the graduates’ faces. Now I realize why. It’s such a crowning achievement,” he says. “However, it’s really a day of celebration for my family. They’ve made it all possible. It’s a big ‘Thank You’ for them.

“Everything I have done doesn’t come close to matching what my parents have done over the past 22 years. They served as a launching pad for me to soar and fly. When I walk up to accept my diploma, it really culminates a lifelong project for my parents and grandmother. It will be such a happy day,” Leon states.