Hey y’all! My name is Rodolfo (Rudy) Perez and I graduated from USC with a degree in Biomedical Engineering with a Mechanical emphasis. I am a first-gen college student born and raised in Norwalk, CA and a very proud Mexican American. On campus, I was the Executive Vice President of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) USC Chapter, an Undergraduate Research Assistant in the Zavaleta Molecular Imaging and Nano Diagnostics Lab, and a work-study Educator at the California Science Center.
Before attending USC, I really had no idea what college life was like and did not have anyone to ask, so freshman year was a bit challenging. This includes everything from adjusting to living with a stranger instead of my very loud, Latino family, tackling exciting but difficult classes, and just making new friends in a place where I knew no one. I think the biggest adjustment had to be going from a pretty tight-knit Latinx community back home to an insanely massive predominantly white institution (PWI). The culture shock is REAL. Constantly being laughed at because you put Tapatío on everything in the dining hall because the food was too bland, being told your name was “spicy” when you pronounced it correctly, being looked at when you spoke Spanish in public, and being one of the only, if not the only, LatinX person in your class.
”The people who really helped me realize this were my SHPE Familia. Despite being a professional organization, SHPE also helps develop your academics and leadership skills, and immerses
you in the tiny but mighty LatinX community at USC.
However, I was determined to not just prove to everyone else but also to myself that I deserved to be here, that I belonged here. It is very easy to feel inferior to your classmates when they have more access to resources, better education, and more preparation for college than you did, but at the end of the day, we are both here taking the same classes and getting the same degree. Imposter Syndrome is when you doubt yourself and your accomplishments and have a fear of being exposed as a “fraud”, and it is something I have struggled with my entire college career, mainly because I kept comparing myself to my classmates. I convinced myself that because they had a “better” upbringing than me that meant they were smarter than me, and that is just not the case. We all got here based on our merits and our accomplishments not because of affirmative action.
The people who really helped me realize this were my SHPE Familia. Despite being a professional organization, SHPE also helps develop your academics and leadership skills, and immerses you in the tiny but mighty LatinX community at USC. Here I found people who looked like me, grew up like me, and most importantly, people who were EXCELLING in engineering at USC. It was in this org that I found the confidence I needed to become a leader and role model to those around me, and I am extremely grateful. It was also in SHPE where I found professional and social opportunities that made my USC experiences much better. Professionally, SHPE helped me create a resume, apply for jobs, create a LinkedIn, a network, and obtain my current research position. All my accomplishments at USC can be tied back to my SHPE Familia taking the time to teach me about all these things and help develop my professional skills. Socially, I have found lifelong friends in this organization. From all the laughs and jokes to staying up until 3 A.M. to finish an assignment or just being there when I needed advice. I was drawn to SHPE because it prioritizes the needs of LatinX students at USC and really emulated the family I missed back home. I did not realize how much my culture was apart of me until I was away from it.
USC is not perfect by a long shot, but I could not imagine going to college anywhere else. The classes are hard, the dining hall food sucks, and the people can be intimidating. But, there are plenty of academic resources available to help keep you on track, there is always going to be someone to offer you a Sopa de Vaso, and your friends are going to be there to hype you up and remind you of who you are.