Many students who will accept their degrees from Virginia Tech later this month took a “traditional” path. They worked hard to get good grades in high school, balanced with extracurricular activities and service, and went straight to college.

That was not the case for Roberto Reyes of Chicago, a senior majoring in economics in the Pamplin College of Business. “I came from an impoverished and rough area of Chicago, raised by a single-parent, and got into my fair share of mischief.”

In fact, Reyes barely passed high school. Instead of college, he decided to join the U.S. Navy. After a three-year commitment, Reyes stayed in Virginia where he had been stationed, eventually moving to Roanoke to work at a hotel and take classes at Virginia Western Community College, earning a 3.7 grade point average (on a 4.0 scale). He applied to transfer to Virginia Tech and was accepted.

“It was an honor for me to get accepted into such a great school, especially after having a less-than-stellar high school career,” Reyes said. “Being from an area where not too many people even graduate from high school, getting into a good college was a big deal.”

Reyes decided to major in economics. He also took on two minors in physics in the College of Science and French in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “Physics is just something you see all around us. It was just my curiosity for the world,” Reyes said. “I was self-taught French by doing an audio course and then took one class at community college. When I transferred to Virginia Tech, I stopped by to talk to a French professor and ask him if it would be possible for me to take an upper-level French class. We had the conversation in French and afterward, he told me I should do fine.”

The professor convinced Reyes to pursue a minor by taking a couple other courses and studying abroad over a summer with four weeks in France and four weeks in Germany.

“Studying abroad shows you a different perspective of the world. A lot of people are isolated and we become so American-centric,” Reyes said. “Perceptions we have of other cultures, for whatever reason that may be, are often wrong. When you actually speak to someone, you realize they are not so different. They may go about certain things differently, but inside, we all have the same underlying care for others.”

Beyond studying abroad, Reyes also took part in a couple of undergraduate research projects to enhance his education and build key skills for his resume. This year, he participated in finance research with George Morgan, SunTrust Professor of Finance, whom Reyes credits in part for his professional development. Reyes is also researching nanotechnology with Hans Robinson, associate professor of physics.

In addition, Reyes is working with senior engineering students in the university's Ware Lab, a facility for the design, fabrication, and testing of junior and senior engineering capstone design projects. Reyes began working with the Astrobotics team as part of a marketing class, but has gravitated more towards helping with the actual construction of the engineering project.

“We are building a rover that simulates what it would be like to navigate and excavate in a Martian environment,” Reyes said. “We are headed to Kennedy Space Center right after graduation to compete in the NASA Robotic Space Mining Competition.”

After the competition, Reyes will ready himself for a position with a multinational corporation, ABB Inc., which specializes in power and automation technologies. His unique undergraduate experiences and skills, he said, prepared him to be offered a competitive position with the company.

“Everything seems to be falling into place. I will be in a financial management rotation program,” Reyes said. “For two years, I will rotate to three different positions to learn about the company. Afterwards, I will go into a position that fits me best.”

From there, Reyes said he wants to pursue a master’s degree one day, and may consider a doctorate degree. He will see where his hard work takes him. “My plan is to seize the opportunity, whenever it comes my way.”

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