Commencement Stories — Rosemblim Lugo

Non-traditional student has overcome every obstacle in pursuit of electrical engineering degree

Lugo family at Halloween.

Rosemblim Lugo, with his wife Karen and son Rosemblim F. Photo courtesy of Lugo Family

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — The tapestry that makes up the life of Bourns College of Engineering student Rosemblim Lugo has so many threads that it is almost impossible to know where to start telling his story.

Do you start with his childhood, when his parents came to the United States from Mexico in hopes of providing a better life for their son? The family had a nomadic existence, traveling back and forth between the US and Mexico, where Lugo graduated from high school in 1999.

Or do you begin during his teenage years, when he would spend hours taking apart a variety of devices to learn how they worked?  Eventually he became so adept at taking apart and fixing things that by his mid-teens, people were bringing him items they needed fixed. This passion for discovery would fuel his desire to become an electrical engineer.

Perhaps you start when the first generation college student and his family attempted to navigate the maze that can be the American college system. He attended Imperial Valley College and Southwestern Community College, working as an audio visual aide and assisting people with disabilities to make ends meet, trying to avoid becoming “lost in the system.”

Maybe you start with the day that he noticed swelling above his eyes and a doctor told him he would need to have his tear glands removed. Now unable to make tears naturally, his eyes frequently appear red and fatigued.

Then there was that glorious day in 2009, when he was accepted to UC Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering.

Or a year later, shortly after coming back from a trip to China with Professor Albert Wong, when a doctor diagnosed a lump under his eyelid as lymphoma. Tumors were discovered on his back and abdomen as well, leading to eight months of chemotherapy at Loma Linda University Medical Center. His university-based insurance made the treatment possible, but he couldn’t take time off from school because if he sat out a quarter he would no longer be covered. He was afraid that if he left, he wouldn’t come back.

“My advisor recommended that I take a quarter or two off, even a year off if necessary.  I would always tell them no,” he said. “I was afraid that I would start working somewhere, and never ever find time to go back to school.  I just wanted to finish the program, no matter what it took.”

Then there was that happy day in 2011, when he and his wife, Karen, welcomed their son, Rosemblim F. Lugo, into the world. They had both wanted a family and decided to get married and hopefully get pregnant before he started treatment — before the chemo could ravage his body.  While doctors are happy with his prognosis, he still undergoes monthly chemo “maintenance” treatments.

You could start with 2012, when the burdens of raising a family, the cost of medical bills, and running out of financial aid made him feel as if his dream of earning a degree would slip from his reach. With all of his financial avenues exhausted, his parents were able to come up with the money to help finance the majority of his school and living expenses. The rest he covered by working while going to school.

Or you could talk about the impact that Lugo had upon the Bourns College of Engineering. How he still found the time to serve on the BCOE Leadership Council. Or how he served as a board member with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), an experience that introduced him to fellow student Luke DeRuyter, which led to a full-time job at ZebraSci, a medical device company in Temecula.

shaking hands

Rosemblim Lugo shaking hands with UC Riverside Chancellor Kim Wilcox after the conferral of Lugo’s B.S. degree in electrical engineering at the commencement ceremony for the Bourns College of Engineering on Monday, June 16, 2014. Photo by Don Davidson

Or maybe you start with June 16, 2014, when the 34-year-old Lugo will walk across the stage in front of family and friends and will formally receive his degree in electrical engineering.

“They are very glad to see me finally graduate.  I have been going to school for so long, hacking away a little bit at a time, and working while I went to school too,” he said.  “I’m just glad I wasn’t ‘another guy who just went to school and took some classes.’ I know I left my mark at BCoE, and at UCR.  I’m glad I finished and did my best with what I had. I think I really got the full experience.”

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