Commencement 2014: URI senior earns engineering degree in spite of obstacles

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KINGSTON, R.I. – . – April 18, 2014 – The loss of both parents and economic disadvantage could have come between an engineering degree and Christopher Lionel Calderón. But inner drive and a vision for himself powered Calderón through Providence Public Schools and four years at the University of Rhode Island.

“Everything is what you make of it,” Calderón says. “That’s the gift I received from my mother: the importance of preparing for the future.”

He is inspired by his late mother, Silvia Franco, who left her home in Guatemala seeking a better life in Providence. She died of breast cancer in May 2013.

“It was my mother who was a pioneer. She didn’t want to be limited. She was very independent,” Calderón says. His twin brother Michael is a Rhode Island College junior studying nuclear medicine technology. His father Lionel died accidentally in 2008.

“I have been challenged more than I expected by both my field of study, engineering, and the hardships in my life; one of which includes the loss of my parents. I have been faced with tremendous difficulties, and have used these difficulties to improve myself; in both character and management,” Calderón said this fall in a speech thanking scholarship donors.

The 2010 valedictorian from Central High School was selected by URI for its Talent Development program, which provides economically disadvantaged students with a rigorous pre-college summer program followed by consistent academic advising.

“Chris took on the challenge of advancing his opportunity for higher education in the Talent Development program with sheer will, dedication, hard work and discipline,” said his TD advisor Gerald R. Williams. “He entered the TD program with focus and determination. I am very proud of him and all that he has accomplished. This young man clearly understands the importance of how attaining a college degree will and has opened doors for him that he could have only imagined and will soon realize.”

Calderón says the TD advisors “do care, and they celebrate your achievements. They provide opportunities for growth. They’re always pushing you to excel.”

Calderón recalls feeling upset about “bombing” his first chemistry test. “I know you’re a great student. You can do this. You just need to evaluate your approach,” Calderón remembers Williams telling him.

Pulling out his smartphone, Calderón reads a text message from a TD counselor that reads, “Hey, you should look into this leadership workshop.”

Calderón demonstrated leadership as the URI chapter treasurer of the national civil engineering honor society Chi Epsilon, and the president of the URI chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. As a 2013 summer intern with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, he gained experience working on the relocation of Interstate 95. He also was named the University’s F.J. Connell Scholar in 2013.

Prior to URI, Calderón was active in and received long-term guidance from mentors at two organizations aimed at academic success for low-income Providence public school students: The College Crusade of Rhode Island and Inspiring Minds.

Calderón says his personal drive motivates him to follow his dreams and goals: “I’ve got to do the right thing. I need to get it done as best I possibly can.”

Pictured above:

Christopher L. Calderón, URI Class of 2014. Marketing & Communications photo by Michael Salerno Photography.