Scholarship helps student become an engineering master in the making

Many people have helped Sergio Rodriguez get to where he is today: A college junior at San Jose State University, with his eye on a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Stanford or UC Davis.

Sergio Rodriguez
Sergio Rodriguez
Recipient of the
Latinos in Technology Scholarship

But of all his supporters -- including the generous Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley (HFSV), a professor at Cañada College, and his loving parents, Jose Mejia Rodriguez and Reina Reyes -- it might be his older cousin in El Salvador who had the most simple, yet profound, impact.

His cousin, Roberto Mendez, taught him how to scrounge components and to ingeniously take apart and fix the myriad electrical appliances and gadgets in his home in El Salvador, a community that didn’t have a Best Buy on every corner.

“Our TV used to break a lot,” Rodriguez recalls with a laugh. “Every week we had to change something and fix it. We were always taking TVs apart to fix, or cell phones -- checking the boards, borrowing components.”

What started out of necessity and youthful curiosity has turned into an adult passion for hands-on engineering, and a love for seeing his own handiwork in action helping others. “In the long run, it helped a lot,” he says. 

It has also helped that he has a brain for math, especially when his family was finally able to escape the violence and lack of opportunity in El Salvador, and emigrate to California in 2008. Rodriguez was thrust into his Menlo Park 8th grade class speaking only Spanish, without the benefit of an English as a Second Language program. Math didn’t require as much English, and he excelled at it, just as he would eventually excel at other subjects in high school.

Still, when it came time to look into a college, “I went online and researched ‘what can you do with math?’ and electrical engineering came up.”

Although he was admitted to U.C. Santa Cruz, he liked the idea of starting with the small classes at Cañada College, and there he met a professor who told him about the HFSV’s Latinos in Technology (LIT) Scholarship, which is administered by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and which pays up to $10,000 a year in tuition for up to three years.

Between that and a National Science Foundation scholarship, “it’s pretty much covering all my tuition and all the things I need for school,” says a grateful Rodriguez, who transferred to San Jose State his junior year. The funds have enabled him to cut back on his hours working at the Infiniti dealership where his father is manager, and to join the networking trade group IEEE.

The LIT scholarship also helped him secure an internship at Intel, where he learned he doesn’t love coding. “I want to see my work in action,” he said. “I feel like I learn better being hands-on with things, rather than sticking with books all day long. I want to work more with power systems, construction-related things, like systems for buildings or motors, maybe working for Tesla.”

But at Intel he did meet people who told him about the engineering master’s program at Stanford, which really interests him. Or perhaps UC Davis.

These are dreams he wouldn’t have had if scholarships hadn’t created the space for him to explore his opportunities at college.

“It feels good to have an organization that cares about you, your ethnicity and your group,” said Rodriguez. “It also feels good to have support in the STEM field, from STEM-related organizations, and to know they are focusing on people that usually don’t have the help that they need.”

And that’s exactly the point. The Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley created this scholarship to provide educational opportunities for Latinx students who wouldn’t have had access to them otherwise. HFSV has offered this scholarship since 2016, in hopes of directly addressing the local education gap among Latinos, and to begin to close the high-tech employment diversity gap.

To learn more about the HFSV LIT scholarship, see siliconvalleycf.org/scholarships/lit