Growing up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Daniel Ramirez eyed the circuitry of arcade cabinets with wonder. But turning that ambition into a career as an engineer was a pipe dream. “After high school, I figured that I wasn’t going to be able to afford college,” he says.
Instead, he focused on building a family with his wife Katie.
It was a great life, but when it came to work, Daniel felt as though he needed to be doing something more. His ambition (and a helpful UW-Madison advisor) led him to the Engineering Transfer Blueprint Program, which enables undergraduate students to easily transition from Madison Area Technical College to the College of Engineering. Suddenly, a clear path to a bachelor’s degree in engineering was neatly laid out for him: Take a suggested curriculum of breadth courses at Madison College, maintain a 3.0 GPA, and acceptance to a College of Engineering department is guaranteed.
Maintaining a smooth transition for students is no easy feat. “UW and Madison College faculty work side by side to ensure that the experience in introductory math and science courses is identical,” says Manuela Romero, College of Engineering assistant dean for student diversity and academic services. As a result, there’s a cross-pollination between institutions, which helps ensure a smooth transition for students.
For Ramirez, by the end of his first semester at UW-Madison, he knew exactly where to go to get the resources he needed to excel.
The Roberto G. Sánchez Scholarship, which supports bilingual Hispanic and Latino transfer students, offset his cost of transitioning to the university. The UW-Madison Office of Child Care and Family Resources connected him with affordable childcare and advised him on how to keep his roles as student and father in balance. “I might have dropped out before my first semester was over without that help,” he says.
Engineering students generally don’t have much free time, but Ramirez makes other student schedules seem positively leisurely by comparison. At 6 a.m., he gets his 2-year-old daughter Elaina ready, drops her off at daycare, heads to campus for a full day of classes, picks Elaina up and heads home for dinner with Katie, puts Elaina to bed (after reading her a story or an occasional passage from a physics textbook), and then, assuming he doesn’t have to sneak out for a late night shift assembling electronics, he stays up until 1:30 a.m. working on calculus and circuit design problems, preparing to do it all again the next day.
Connections with engineering faculty and staff quickly became equally vital to Ramirez’s success. He stops in to chat with staff in the Diversity Affairs Office early in the morning and works with Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor Nader Behdad on his electromagnetic wave research. Behdad frequently encourages him to pursue a PhD.
While making time for life on campus and at home can be daunting, Ramirez also does what he can to connect with the community, tutoring middle and high school students in math and science courses. “At that age, you need someone to tell you that you can do something more with yourself, that there are opportunities.”
That work ethic, that drive to achieve more and give back, is the core lesson from his experiences that Daniel hopes to pass on. “Hopefully Elaina picks up on that sort of stuff,” he says.