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From undecided to engineering: Orlando Gonzalez gains experience and insight

From undecided to engineering: Orlando Gonzalez gains experience and insight
Cutler Scholar Orlando Gonzalez began his career at OHIO as an undecided major

Sophomore Orlando Gonzalez always wanted to go to college, but worried that he didn’t have the resources to afford a college education. When he learned about the Cutler Scholars Program at Ohio University he applied and was selected as the James E. Daley Cutler Scholar.

Born and raised in Mexico, Gonzalez moved to the United States five years ago. He lives in Asbury Park, New Jersey and is excited to be on campus in Athens for the first time, having completed his first year as a Bobcat online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Gonzalez spent his first year of college exploring OHIO’s academic options as an undecided student in University College before declaring a major in chemical engineering in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology.

Online learning presented Gonzalez challenges in the form of internet connectivity issues and the daily distractions of studying and attending virtual classes while living in a small apartment with his family. He said he sometimes felt intimidated and disappointed in himself during his first semester since he was surrounded (virtually) by students in the Cutler Scholars program who were already in their chosen majors.

He found help and encouragement with major exploration from his University College adviser Cristy Null and Cutler Scholars Interim Director of Operations and Scholars Experience Kristine Hoke. “Once I started second semester I expressed my concerns to my advisors,” Gonzalez said. “They were reassuring.”

Before moving to Athens for his sophomore year at OHIO, Gonzalez volunteered as a translator for Casa Freehold, a New Jersey organization that provides immigration legal services and helps immigrants learn how to address their own needs and assist others as they integrate into their community. “I had the opportunity to work alongside immigrants and immigration lawyers,” Gonzalez said. He helped clients complete intake forms and job applications in addition to supporting communication between immigrants and lawyers.

In his first year of college Gonzalez was leaning toward declaring a major in political science or engineering. At Casa Freehold he got to know a lawyer who was himself an immigrant from Mexico and had a background as a chemical engineer. Gonzalez took inspiration from the lawyer and decided to declare a major in chemical engineering with a minor in political science. “I realized chemical engineering would open doors to many different opportunities to bring change to the world,” he said. “I really enjoyed helping people legally so I will pursue a political science minor.”

Gonzalez advises other students who are starting out undecided to be patient and do their best. “It’s totally OK (to be undecided). You’ll get there,” he said. “There’s a path for everyone. Speaking to your teachers and advisors is helpful.”