College is a place for growth and experience, in addition to learning outside of the classroom. For one particular undergraduate, college has been a journey full of life lessons.
Chris Torres, an undergraduate graduating with a degree in chemical and biological engineering, considers himself a “nontraditional” college student.
“(My time at UNM) has been a journey to say the least,” Torres said. “I was a nontraditional student — I started off in school older than most of my peers.”
He said by knowing when to joke around, he was not vexed by the age difference between him and his peers in college.
“I really had to learn when to be serious, and when not to be serious. I probably lean more to the not-so-serious part of the time, and that helped me connect with some of my peers,” Torres said.
Torres said he describes himself as a “kid at heart,” and began his college career at the Central New Mexico Community College. He started studying electrical engineering before transferring to UNM two years later. He switched his major in his first year at UNM and said he has not looked back since.
Torres described his coursework at the University as challenging, and said there was a time when he was on the verge of a mental breakdown.
“There were times we had to do group work with some people I don’t necessarily like, or they don’t do the best work, and it becomes difficult,” he said. “There have been times where your patience is tried and you think you can’t do it, and there have been times that I’ve doubted myself, but with the support of my peers and my network — taking classes with all these students for three years together — really helped me get by and get where I am now.”
Without his support network — consisting of his girlfriend, friends and campus clubs — Torres said he would not have succeeded, and that students should reach out to peers and mentors.
“It really empowers you knowing that you all are going to be doing something great in the future,” Torres said, adding that it is not about “how smart you are, but how hard you work.”
Torres said some of his lighter memories at the University are from his department’s end of year barbecues and attending national conferences with members from his engineering honors society, Tau Beta Pi, to promote integrity and professionalism in engineering.
“(Getting to know your peers) really helps to go out to a different place, to go party (and) have fun, while also getting the professional part of it and cooking meals together when you’re in a different city. It’s really nice to get to know who you’re working with,” Torres said.
Torres started a project within Tau Beta Pi that gives back to the community and keeps a portion of New Mexico’s highways clean. He calls the project his “baby.”
“We picked mile marker 206 to 207 on I-25, south of Albuquerque, and we decided to go clean it up. Since we incepted this program we have had two pickup sessions where we picked up 45 bags of trash from one side of the road,” Torres said.
He added that the project will still go on after he graduates.
In addition to his involvement with extracurricular activities, Torres served as a teaching assistant for three semesters.
Torres said he will attend the University of Illinois in the fall of 2018 to work toward a doctorate in chemical and biological engineering. After he attains his doctorate, Torres said he wants to give back to the academic community.
“I’ve learned a lot through life experiences. I’m not a traditional student and I always feel like I have a lot of life knowledge I can pass on to younger generations,” Torres said.
In addition to his overall future goals, Torres said he has a couple personal goals he wants to cross off his list. He said he wants to rebuild an engine, backpack across Europe and finally get around to something he has not learned.
“I never learned how to swim. I had a near drowning experience as a child and that is a fear I’d like to conquer,” he said.
Torres is leaving New Mexico by the end of this month, but he said he hopes his advice to struggling students will stick around for a while.
“Talk to somebody. I would say that is one of the biggest things. Don’t bottle (stress) up, because 99 times out of 100, there are a good number of students or peers going through the exact same thing as you, and a lot of the times you just need to vent. Take advantage of your support system and...Student Health and Counseling,” Torres said.
Anthony Jackson is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TonyAnjackson.