My name is Paul Hamilton and I was once sitting right where you’re at: at Northwest Vista College. Those days were tough, I remember. I was working full-time at a Chinese delivery restaurant making minimum wage just barely scraping by. Thankfully FAFSA came through and NVC was affordable!
I spent two-and-a-half years at that campus, starting in the spring of 2011. I took all of my basic prerequisites before I transferred to UTSA’s engineering college.
During my time at NVC, Math Professor Dennis Gittinger and his College Algebra course really gave me the confidence to pursue engineering. I didn’t really have a “plan” so to speak but by the end of my first semester, having spent it with Dennis, I was convinced of my own potential and declared as a pre-engineering major. From there, I was accepted into the NVC’s MIM (Math-Intensive Majors) calculus program where I did Calculus I & II. This program helped me tremendously in preparing for the intense math that awaited me at the four-year university. I was fortunate to be a part of MIM and I greatly appreciate the dedication that NVC Professors Claudia Verdin and Manuel Escobar provided through the wonderful program
. Beyond that, I think it was the easy-going feel of NVC and the small classes that helped me the most in transitioning.
Transitioning to the university was tough for me but my time at NVC made that easier. I didn’t have the greatest GPA, or scholarships, or anything really. I was just very ambitious when starting at UTSA and I made it a goal to shake hands with as many professionals as I could. I quickly made contacts in various research programs and volunteered my time to help them with their events to illustrate my work ethic and willingness to sacrifice my free time to better myself.
I did a few different research programs at UTSA, starting with the Transfer Academy for Tomorrow’s Engineers. This is an excellent summer bridge program that introduces STEM majors to higher order mathematics while also allowing them real research experience (which is excellent to have on your résumé). That program helped me get familiar with the campus and the faculty during the two-week in-class portion of the program. From there I continued networking and volunteering my time until I received a job as a tour guide at UTSA. I continued applying for as many programs as I could, with little luck. I was finally accepted into the LSAMP research program where I spent one semester working with one of the doctors at UTSA. That program was very good to me and ultimately took me to Florence, Italy, for the whole summer in 2014, all expenses paid. When I returned from Italy, I continued taking classes while also participating in UTSA’s Air Force ROTC detachment as a contracted cadet.
I half-heartedly applied to NASA’s Pathways program in the fall without the expectation of even receiving a phone call back. To my surprise, I was accepted into NASA’s Pathways program and spent the better part of two years, intermittently, working for the agency. And I am so thankful and humbled to say that just three weeks ago I was offered a full-time position with NASA’s Johnson Space Center. All this to say, it doesn’t happen overnight. And, it’s not easy. It’s just not! But that’s something that makes it worth the time and the struggle to get there. And I promise you that if I can do it, so can you.
I made it out of a minimum wage job and a GED program to one of the premier engineering entities in the world. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. Make up your mind that you’re not going to hit that snooze button, then roll out of bed and make it the best day you can! Consider how privileged you are compared with some of the other people around the world. Humble yourself and network. Smile and shake hands, even if it feels awkward. It gets easier. You’ll meet a lot of great people throughout community college and the university you choose to attend. Keep in touch and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You choose the life you lead. Choose carefully!
– Paul Hamilton
Note: Paul received his associates in pre-engineering from NVC in the spring of 2013. He is currently finishing his Bachelor of Engineering at UTSA and will start with NASA as an engineer when he graduates in May. As an undergrad student, Paul was able to join the NASA Pathways program, which offers federal employment for students and and graduates.