Derek sits to discuss his time at EXPLO so far this summer. His experiences in his previous Concentrations have laid a foundation for him, and he's feeling confident as he enters his third and final session in Business.
What's your Concentration this session?
The Concentration I'm currently taking is Business, but I took [two others] previously. In the first session, I did Engineering. The second, I did Artificial Intelligence. This is actually the third session I've been here.
Why did you choose these Concentrations?
I started with Engineering because my parents are engineers. My father is a computer engineer, and my mom is an electrical engineer. And I started with that because it's always been an interesting topic to me. I enjoy technology, and my father taught me a lot about engineering. And in school, they taught me a lot about coding. My parents asked about me a becoming computer engineer from that. It's kind of like that whole idea where, if I wanted to be a nurse, they might suggest I become a doctor.
I got into that coding class and learned a lot of Java and Python, and I fell in love with it. I want to see if I can do something with that coding, and somehow change the world in some way. You see the amazing tech in movies, holograms, cybernetics, et cetera. I want to turn that into reality using the combination of AI and computer engineering skills I've developed here and elsewhere.
Why did you choose to come to EXPLO?
I really wanted to do a summer program, especially a pre-college one — but I was kind of lost. I searched all over, at every college I could find. Luckily, a friend of mine had been to EXPLO before, and he told me how immersive and exciting it is. I thought I'd give it a try. And seeing what was offered, I wanted to go to all three. I was originally supposed to stay for two sessions, but my parents just decided they needed an extra two weeks of their little vacation away from me.
After being here for four weeks, what are you most looking forward to in the last two?
The last four weeks I've been taking it chill, since I've had a lot of time. I've been trying to meet all these people from all around the world, from different communities, like the LGBTQ+ people I've met, and many people of different races and religions. I stayed in my comfort zone first session, but in the second session, I started to be more social. I guess I was kind of social in the first one, but the second one is when I started trying to make new friends outside of my little group. I only stuck with the Engineering group at first, but in the second session, I mixed with Engineering, Business, Psychology, and AI. I went with all of them.
Since it's the last two weeks, I really want to take all that experience, and meet even more people and become friends with everybody. I've always wanted to be a great leader — someone who can guide others, someone that everybody can look up to. So, the first day, when my S.A. said, "Hey, you're guiding our group to the lounge," I felt that leader's excitement. I like taking on that role. I always want to. It's something I'm not great at, but I want to improve on.
What lessons outside your studies do you think you'd like to carry with you beyond this summer?
I want to bring a lot of things out of here. I expected to come to EXPLO and leave a totally new person. I always was this person that would stay in my room and do whatever. And it's weird because I always wanted to be social, but I never had the guts to talk to people like I have here. So when I applied to this program, I wanted to take as much advantage of the opportunity as I could. I learned a lot because normally, in Puerto Rico, I just wouldn't have the same ability to meet people who are so different from me.
I've only been here for a month, but it feels like I've learned decades' worth of knowledge. This is the first time I've lived outside of Puerto Rico for more than two weeks actually. And not only that, but it's the first I've lived away from my family or in a new place. It's big for me — being away from family and doing all these new things, meeting new people, changing myself, little by little. I noticed in the beginning, I was always that background person, just listening in and sometimes getting my comment in. And now I'm volunteering to be interviewed. I want for my voice to be heard more, to be a great leader, to change, and be a helping hand that people can rely on. I hope that's what I take from this summer.