Edgar Florentino was skeptical that he would be successful in life. He came to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of two with his entire family and grew up in the Back of Yards neighborhood. He stopped-out of high school because he didn’t feel safe. Sometimes he got into trouble. He floundered for a while before he came to the realization that he needed to change, and that he needed to go back to school and earn his high school diploma. If not for himself, for his father. “I enrolled at Malcolm X College and applied myself. It took about four months, three days a week, but I did the work and finished high school, earning my diploma,” said Edgar. “My dad was so proud of me and I was proud of myself.” A little more soul-searching and Edgar realized he felt a deep connection to nature in the form of flora. Today, Edgar is a community gardener brightening up the neighborhood he grew up in by landscaping streets where “there is a lot of community violence. This work gives me joy and peace,” he shares. Most of his work is along 48th and 49th street in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood. Beautifying the residential streets and intersections is Florentino's way of helping people feel safer. For this work, he was recently profiled on ABC 7 Chicago’s show “OUR CHICAGO: NUESTRO SEGUNDO HOGAR.” He also created a bilingual gardening group on Facebook called Jardineros Y Jardineras De Chicago to provide a space for local Spanish-speaking gardeners to get inspiration and seek advice from one another. “I’m going to graduate in December from my apprenticeship with Green Corp and I hope to get a position working with flora.” Edgar would like to keep his future education and career path in the green industry.
From a dream of dancing to a passion for engineering, Casey Tan’s journey is an inspiring one.
Hailing from the Philippines, Casey and her family made a life-changing move to Chicago in 2011. Although she attended an arts high school where she focused on dance, Casey has always had an interest in STEM and knew that a career in engineering would lead to a world of opportunities. Due to her artistic background, she had some hesitations about pursuing engineering, but they didn’t stop her from taking steps towards earning an Associate in Engineering Science degree from Wright College.
In high school, Casey was a recipient of the Posse scholarship, which provides students with a full ride to a select number of colleges and universities. However, with encouragement from her parents, she decided to follow in her brother’s footsteps to attend Wright.
Casey admits that she had reservations about attending a community college, but her perspective completely changed when she became a student. She had the incredible support of faculty and mentor Dr. Doris Espiritu, and she was surrounded by supportive peers who shared the same brightness, ambitions, and enthusiasm about the engineering field. Casey found community at Wright within her engineering cohort and joined student organizations such as the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers, the American Chemical Society, and the Society of Women Engineers.
“Don’t limit your own potential,” she emphasized when asked what advice she would give new students. “If you think you’re capable, don’t be afraid to ask for support.”
Casey was also involved in research and tutoring opportunities at the college, which led to her securing an internship at Northwestern University’s Center for Advanced Regenerative Engineering (CARE). As an intern at Northwestern, she’s focusing on 3D-printing vascular scaffolds and biomedical engineering, which she says is the perfect opportunity to build skills for the future.
This fall, Casey will be transferring to Northwestern to study biomedical engineering. She believes the engineering program at Wright and her summer internship have truly prepared her for her next steps towards a successful career.
Reflecting on her experience at Wright College, Casey expressed, “I will never shut up about the engineering program for the rest of my life.”