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Carlos Trejo Perez in YVC's Physics and Engineering Building

Engineering student nominated for state-wide academic honors

Each winter, Yakima Valley College and other community and technical colleges in Washington state select nominees to represent their college in the annual All-USA Academic Team competition. This year, YVC selected engineering student Carlos Trejo-Perez.

Like many students in the Yakima Valley, Carlos Trejo-Perez comes from a hard-working immigrant family. While most kids spent their Saturday mornings sleeping in, Trejo-Perez was waking up and working alongside his parents in the orchard.

“Working in freezing conditions in the mornings until the sun is beaming down on you in the afternoons, I knew that this was not what I wanted my future to look like,” said Trejo-Perez.

With the goal of more for his future he enrolled at Yakima Valley College to pursue a degree in engineering.

“Although my parents have always worked hard to give us the future they never had, being a minority living within the Yakama Indian Reservation means that opportunity is few and far between. This means that we must take advantage of any opportunity that arises,” he said.

Through support from YVC’s STEM program, Trejo-Perez has had the opportunity to participate in extensive learning outside the classroom to complement his classes.

“Working in freezing conditions in the mornings until the sun is beaming down on you in the afternoons, I knew that this was not what I wanted my future to look like.” — Carlos Trejo-Perez

In February 2022, he was selected for the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program to attend the NCAS Virtual Experience. His successful completion of a five-week online NCAS course earned him a spot participating in the NCAS Virtual Experience alongside other high-achieving community college students from across the country.

“The first phase of the program focused on the history and objectives of NASA while simultaneously tying in the experiences of employees and their journeys to get to the position they are in today,” Trejo-Perez said. “This was a captivating experience that established the notion that the road to success is not a straight path.”

Trejo-Perez noted the second phase of the program, held online due to COVID, was more demanding, as each student team had to create a plan in which they arranged plans for infrastructure, assigned responsibilities, managed a budget, and developed communications and outreach strategies in order to achieve a goal of space exploration.

Trejo-Perez was also selected to participate in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Community College Internships (CCI) program for the Summer 2022 Term.

The CCI program encourages community college students, like Trejo-Perez, to enter technical careers relevant to the DOE mission by providing technical training experiences at department laboratories. During the term, he was able to work at the General Atomics / DIII-D facility located in San Diego, Calif.

“CCI has been an eye opening experience for me, introducing me to a whole new industry,” said Carlos. “Through this program, I was not only able to grow professionally, but also grow interest in a new field of study.”

“Carlos has worked very hard over the last few years and taken advantage of the support offered in the STEM program,” states STEM Program Director Cristy Rasmussen. “It’s incredible to see all his hard work acknowledged and he is another student that will have an impact in our world.”

He has also served as a mentor for a high school robotics club since 2019.

“During the competition season I volunteer upwards of 20 hours a week helping students go through the engineering process, 3D modeling components, and assist with the overall construction and design for the competition robot,” he says. “Serving my time as a volunteer for this program is fundamentally what cultivated my passion for leadership. Knowing the impact that this program had on my career path and sense of genuine community in high school motivates me as a mentor to pay it forward.”

He’s also been active in YVC’s STEM Club, serving as a vice president, and participated in undergraduate research projects on campus.

“My role as vice president for this campus-wide program is to build a community for students to connect with like-minded individuals who share the same passion. Alongside the other officers, we work on bringing resources to our weekly meetings that will assist students in our campus with opportunities alongside many other things,” said Trejo-Perez.

Trejo-Perez has been honored with scholarship awards from the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship and Mollie Davis Scholarship programs.

In addition his All-Washington Academic Team recognition, Trejo-Perez has been named a 2023 Coca-Cola Academic Team Silver Scholar — an honor that includes an additional $1,250 scholarship.

“The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation has a long history of providing financial assistance to outstanding students at community colleges,” said Jane Hale Hopkins, president of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. “We are proud to partner with Phi Theta Kappa to make it possible for more deserving students to achieve their educational goals and support tomorrow’s leaders of the global community.”

Trejo-Perez and the other Coca-Cola Academic Team members will be recognized in both local and statewide ceremonies and will also be recognized internationally during Phi Theta Kappa’s annual convention, PTK Catalyst, to be held in Columbus, Ohio, April 20-22.

He graduates this June with an associate degree. In the fall he plans to attend the University of Washington’s College of Engineering, where he’ll work towards a bachelor of science in aerospace engineering. He feels his experiences at YVC and through community involvement have prepared him well for future learning and helped him overcome the intimidation that many first-generation students can experience when contemplating college.

Trejo-Perez says challenging yourself and finding support are important for first-generation students.

“Reaching outside of one’s comfort zone is critical during this time because it allows one to truly discover themselves,” he said. “I also strongly believe that it is important for oneself to find a community, or a group of individuals who share the same values, when navigating college.”

Trejo-Perez will be honored at the All-Washington Academic Team ceremony in May, when two of the state’s nominees will be announced as participants in the All-USA Academic Team competition.