College can be a challenge for anyone, with a full slate of classes, complex coursework, and a new campus to navigate. While I admit it has been a few years since I became an engineering major at Widener University, I remember clearly how daunting it all felt.
As if the normal experience weren’t overwhelming enough, I was among the first in my family to attend college, which meant I had few role models paving the path for me, pointing me in the direction of where to go, what to study, how to acclimate and adapt. And I had the extra burden of having to pay my way through school, helped along by a combination of scholarships, loans, and jobs.
During those years, beyond the hurdles presented by my own background, I also came to understand the broader cultural and financial barriers that came with being a Latino student, particularly one pursuing science, technology, engineering, or math – the so-called STEM fields.
On a personal and professional level, I’ve long believed those barriers have to come down. Now, as President and CEO of Pepco Holdings, I have the opportunity to actively push for that very change. At Pepco Holdings, we’re tackling the STEM gap with our Hispanic Student Engineering Scholarship and Internship Program.
The program’s goal is straightforward: help Latino college students overcome a primary roadblock to earning their degree – financial support. Additionally, we’re training these aspiring innovators. Just as doors opened for me early on to test my skills as an engineer, we’re giving our program recipients real-world experience in the field, across our company.
Here’s how we’re doing it. Pepco is providing $75,000 in scholarships to six Hispanic students looking to major in STEM fields. Recipients are either recent high school graduates entering college in the fall or those currently in their freshman or sophomore years. Each is eligible for a package that includes a paid internship over the next three years, along with funds to pay tuition. And they received a summer internship offer to work at Pepco Holdings in engineering, IT, or cyber security.
Starting, supporting and, ultimately, sustaining this initiative is a win for everyone. It will offer a special group of young people a crucial early step on their career path; strengthen our company’s workforce by adding talented, creative members to our teams; and it will reflect our unwavering commitment to diversity, as a value and a business priority. Any office, team, or company is stronger when capable people from different backgrounds, possessing different perspectives, work together.
With the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Student Fund, and the Latin American Youth Center, we’re proud to have partners in this region who lent a hand in identifying our inaugural class, and who will help track their progress moving forward.
Now let me introduce you to our first cohort of recipients:
Carlos Lopez is a sophomore at Marymount University majoring in cyber security. He worked at Pepco during his four years of high school in the work study program at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Md.
Topacio Ruby Cruz-Reyes is junior at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and is working on a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering.
Hope Klomegah is a freshman at Prince George’s Community College majoring in engineering.
Dagm Kebede is a sophomore at George Mason University majoring in engineering. He graduated from Cardozo High School in D.C. and participated in the Latino Student Fund’s Listo College Prep Program.
Jose Ricardo Membreno Pineda is a junior at Montgomery Community College majoring in electrical engineering.
Wilson de Leon is a freshman at Montgomery Community College majoring in electrical engineering.