First Gen. Spotlight: Ortegon

Nov. 8 marks First Generation Day, as part of the University of Florida’s First-Generation college students’ weeklong celebration. This was selected as the date for the annual National First-Generation College Celebration to honor the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure & Environment (ESSIE) worked on a series of interviews for a few first-generation students.

Anthony Perez Ortegon, Civil Engineering Junior

Could you tell us a bit about your background and what inspired you to pursue a degree in civil engineering?  

I am the first generation of my family to grow up in the U.S. and attend college. I was motivated to pursue a degree in Civil Engineering because I had taken an interest in infrastructure, the built environment, and supporting communities.

As a first-generation college student, what challenges did you face when entering higher education, and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge I faced when trying to pursue a higher education was finding information. No one in my family knew how the college process worked or what colleges existed. What was required to pursue a higher education? What are opportunities for involvement outside of just the classes? What are the names of universities to explore. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Trying to learn about what to do was overwhelming at times. Especially when I didn’t know how to evaluate the quality of a degree program. Everything sounded good.

What achievements, research or projects are you most proud of during your academic journey?

I have consistently made the Dean’s List here at UF. As a first semester Junior, I’ve started to work on my coursework for my Master’s in Structural Engineering. However, I think my greatest achievement has been in my contributions to the UF Eckhoff Steel Bridge team. I came to UF specifically because I wanted to be involved with the program. I have worked hard to continue to maintain the standing of the team as well as improve its structure and impact on the student body. A team member in 2022, the Administrative Lead in 2023, and now the Project Manager.

Could you share any advice or words of encouragement for other first-generation students considering a path in engineering?

Engineering is a people-driven discipline. You are working to serve people by improving their quality of life in a safe and reliable manner. You are constantly working with other people and parties to complete projects. You are in charge of creating a solution to a community’s problems. Take the time to reach out to your professors and classmates. Ask questions and share your thoughts. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. You’re never wrong in engineering, but you can bet there is always a better solution. Continue to seek exposure and feedback in a respectful manner. It’ll only make you a better, people-driven, problem solver.

How has being a first-generation student shaped your perspective and approach to your studies and career?

It has taught me to be humble, to always be prepared, and flexible. Humble in that there is always someone I can learn from who has a better understanding of a system I’ve had limited exposure to. Prepared in that I research and ensure I have a good understanding of what it is I am learning or working on. Flexible in that I always create a secondary option to what it is I’m doing because I recognize I may have missed or misunderstood a consideration that does not allow my initial plan to go through.

How do you envision your future in the field of engineering? What are your career goals?

In the field of engineering, I see myself as a leader in a company or division that emphasizes the community impact of projects, the importance of feedback, and the need for life-long learning. My career goal is to develop and lead a team that caters to developing young engineers for community-centered design.