One student’s journey from Morelia to mechanical engineer

Fernando Barajas stands in front of the CSUN College of Engineering and Computer Science in Northridge, Calif., on Oct. 12, 2022. Barajas is the president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers at CSUN.

Jennifer Ramos, Reporter

Fernando Barajas, a CSUN student who migrated from Mexico to the U.S., has paved his way to making a mark in the STEM community. He holds the title of president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers at CSUN and is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The DACA policy protects around 800,000 people who immigrated to the United States as children, giving them eligibility for a driver’s license, social security, temporary deferred deportation and a work permit. The program currently does not accept any new applications.

When he was 9 years old, Barajas arrived in Long Beach, California, after a long journey from Morelia, Michoacán in Mexico. It was an emotional moment when he and his sister reunited with their father after 3 1/2 years. As Fernando sobbed into his father’s arms, his father said a few words that he would not forget.

“Mi gordito hermoso, como los he extrañado … como estas? Los amo con todo mi corazón,” said his father, asking Barajas and his sister how they were. He expressed how much he had missed and loved them.

Migrating to the U.S. was a tough journey for Barajas. Not only did he leave behind a home in Mexico, but he also had to adapt to a new environment. Language barriers made it difficult to communicate with certain people, and Barajas felt it was harder to make friends in school.

“I worked full time at a job under the table as a sales representative, and in my lunch time I would fix phones. In reality it left me with less and less time to create friendships at CSUN. Back then, I would leave right after my class and the commute would take 1 hour and 30 minutes on the way back,” said Barajas.

Once settled into the U.S., however, he and his family continued to build their lives. “My family and I lived in a back one-room house. It was tight, but we were happy,” said Barajas. Later, they would move into a more spacious home with two rooms. There, they began a small family business selling food in their backyard.

Fernando Barajas poses in front of the CSUN College of Engineering and Computer Science in Northridge, Calif., on Oct. 12, 2022. Barajas is the president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers at CSUN. (William Franco Espinosa)

“At first, it was only for friends and family. As time flew by it expanded to catering food for local companies, and ever since my family became the owner of a small catering business where we offer services and cater food to many different individuals and companies,” said Barajas.

He had enrolled at CSUN during the fall of 2017, hoping to accomplish the American dream.

“As an immigrant and proud, it was my dream to attend a university and accomplish the American dream,” said Barajas. He began his academic journey as a marketing major, though he couldn’t form a special bond with the community. He felt something didn’t click.

“I did enjoy it a lot, but in comparison with mechanical engineering, I did not find the community or bond at the time of my freshman year,” said Barajas.

In his sophomore year at CSUN, Barajas stumbled upon a person named Diego Duran. They immediately became friends and Duran introduced Barajas to SHPE CSUN, where Barajas started to attend workshops. The workshops consisted of helping with communication skills, resumes, mock interviews and social bonding events. This is where it clicked, according to Barajas.

“[Barajas] already had an idea of what engineers do. I only exposed him to more engineering activities and showed him he didn’t have to struggle on his own,” said Duran. “I remember telling him about SHPE, and [it] motivated him to attend the meetings.”

Barajas recalled early on during his new journey as an engineer that a CSUN advisor of mechanical engineering urged him to “never stop trying.” Barajas has taken these words to heart. In the past year, Barajas ran for a board position in SHPE CSUN and held the title of director of communication in 2021. He is currently president of SHPE CSUN.

“I knew he would be a great fit. I would even joke around with him with the possibility of becoming president … and he did,” said Duran.

As the president, he is involved with committees, tracking dates, meetings, organizing events and board meetings, and communicating with Hispanic science, technology, engineering and math majors. “I enjoy learning and talking to people involved in club activities, such as community service,” said Barajas.

As Barajas sees it, his goals of becoming a mechanical engineer and making his family proud were fully supported by CSUN every step of the way.

“CSUN has supported my dream. I was lucky enough to have been awarded the [2021 CSUN] Dreamers Scholarship, which I’m thankful for getting. … It has helped so much,” said Barajas. “Being a ‘Dreamer’ is holding tight to aspirations and desires you have, and making them a reality.”

The CSUN Dreamers Scholarship offers financial support and resources for undergraduate students who are not eligible for full access to federal financial aid.

“I believe he’s gotten this far because he is determined to succeed in life. All I did was to extend the same opportunities SHPE CSUN had offered to me once,” said Duran. “My cousin, who was the president at SHPE [University of California, Irvine], would tell me, ‘Lift as you climb.’ And Fernando is the clear example of that.”