CBE Spotlight - Esmeralda Orozco

By Ashley Long

First Generation Student Spotlight 

Esmeralda Orozco

School/College College of Engineering 

Major Chemical Engineering

Class Year Spring 2020

Hometown Chicago, IL 

Organizations/Involvement

                Vice-President of American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) 

                AIChE ChemE Jeopardy/AIChE Chem-E-Car

                Activities Coordinator - Omega Chi Epsilon (OxE) 

                Volunteer - Circle K 

What is your favorite TV show at the current moment?

One Day at a Time! My friend had been begging me to watch it. It’s basically about a Cuban family and all the characters are kinda hectic. 

What has been your favorite class at the University of Iowa?

I really liked Engineering Economy. I initially wanted to do pharmaceuticals and then I was like “Ehh maybe I like other stuff.” I wanted to take a business course, and this was one of the first classes I took. The professor that teaches the class is really passionate about teaching and you can really tell. 

Tell us about your experience of being a first-gen and what it means to you. 

I was originally born in Mexico and later moved to Chicago when I was very young. My mom made it to the 3rd grade while my dad made it to the 5th. My parents instilled in me the importance of going to school and following your education because it was something they weren’t able to do. Being a first-gen symbolizes (for me) that I understand how hard it was for my parents to go through what they have gone through in terms of jobs. You have that opportunity and it's about making use of those opportunities. You don’t have somebody to directly advise you about what to do when you get to college so it's about knowing to use the resources around you to make sure you can get to where you want to go and what you want to accomplish in your life. 

What led you to go into chemical engineering for college?

I first started thinking about college when I was in the 8th grade. One of my teachers asked me if I planned on doing anything outside of high school since I was already taking more advanced classes. By the time I got into high school, I knew I wanted to go to college.  In the 6th grade, I joined our middle school’s robotics team and that drew me towards engineering. When I was in high school, I also really enjoyed chemistry. Since I liked problem-solving and chemistry, I looked into chemical engineering. I saw chemical engineering not knowing what it really was, but I was curious about it.  

Can you tell us about your favorite project/accomplishment so far while in college?

My research in the lab that I work in is something I am really proud of. I work with polymers and I participated in RU (Research Undergraduate) program where I essentially conducted research, presented the results, and you need to have people understand what you’re talking about. While we do have group meetings where people talk about their research, it is one thing to listen to what they are saying, and it is another thing to understand it. It was cool to present at the end of the summer and have them ask questions about my research and for me to know that they understood what I was talking about. 

In ChemE Jeopardy we ended up in 2nd place at the competition and I didn’t think we were going to make it that far to be honest! It was my first time competing and I didn’t know what to expect but it was fun, and it put me out of my comfort zone. 

Was there something you did not expect or was a big surprise for you going into college?

My older sister went to college for a bit, but she didn’t graduate, and my other sister is currently at a community college, but I will be the first to graduate. They helped prepare me a bit for what to expect, but I didn’t expect college to be as stressing as it is. I thought it would be more laid-back like you just take your classes and your exams. It’s definitely very different than what high school was. Even going to a college-prep high school only prepared me to a certain extent. 

What do you hope to do after graduation? 

I am currently looking for a job. I am working in a lab right now and that gave me insight into what I want to be and makes me want to be open to opportunities. I want to explore the industries and see which one would be the right fit for me.

Do you have any advice for first-gen students that will be entering college?

Going into college, I wish I would have known how important it is in finding internships and gaining work experience. My first two years here I spent mostly focused on classes and not so much on building connections with other people. In the last few years, I have gotten more involved like right now I am working in a lab. I wish I would have done that earlier.