Oct 10, 2023
Carolina Colón was 7 years old when she decided she was getting a Ph.D. and starting a lab filled with students with lower grade point averages but lots of untapped potential.
It was an ambitious plan for a first grader, and her life journey has been more challenging than she might have imagined. But now she’s laying the foundation for that childhood dream in her second year of Georgia Tech’s bioengineering doctorate program.
Along the way, she’s making a point to help others see paths and opportunities she didn’t — whether they’re fellow Hispanic students interested in engineering, first-generation college students, or especially community or technical college students.
Her efforts to build community — as an undergraduate student at two colleges and now among her fellow grad students in Todd Sulchek’s lab — are among the many reasons the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) has recognized Colón with its national STAR Role Model Award.
The award is the highest honor for a SHPE graduate student member, reserved to recognize “unselfish and outstanding contributions of an honoree to their SHPE student chapter and the Hispanic community while maintaining academic excellence.”
Colón said she doesn’t really see herself as a role model — except, hopefully, for her 14-year-old sister. She’s a gamer, so instead she drew comparisons to nonplayable characters in video games, like those who might give the player a side quest.
“I will be the friend there for you to hold your hand or even help you beat people up if you need to, but I’m a go-with-the-flow type of person in that regard,” Colón said. “I will be there as a friend, if you want me to. I'll be there as a mentor, if you want me to. I will be the person to clear the path, if you want me to. I don’t view it as the term ‘role model.’ I view it more as like somebody who’s going through the same circumstances that’s willing to lend a helping hand.”