Feature Stories

This Graduate Won a Presidential Scholarship to Princeton

Alex Salazar, a civil engineering major, excelled at NJIT and won a Presidential Fellowship to attend Princeton University.

When he was 19, Alexander Salazar left Colombia, his homeland, for America. He loved Colombia but wanted to pursue his dream: to attend a U.S. university and one day earn an engineering degree.      

For his first seven years in America, though, Alexander worked in a factory in Passaic, assembling windows and doors. It was a humble working-class job: it paid $6 a hour, yet he didn’t despair. Rather, while he worked he taught himself English. In his free time, he read grammar books and watched educational TV shows.

When he had enough money saved, he enrolled at Bergen Community College. He majored in engineering science.  Having a logical mind and a strong work ethic, he aced all his classes. His dream of attaining an engineering degree was beginning to materialize.

Growing up in Colombia, his dream was to become a builder of vast bridges and soaring skyscrapers. He attended a good Colombian elementary school and excelled in math and science. But early on in life, a stroke of bad luck befell him. When he was 3 years old, his parents divorced; his mother abandoned the family; his father died when he was 10. At times, Alex almost gave up.

"There were times in my past when I was frustrated," says Alex. "I couldn't visualize my future. But for some reason, I have this motivation inside of me."

After his mother left and his father died, Alex lived in Colombia with an aunt and uncle. He traveled to America first as a tourist, then lived with relatives in Passaic and became a U.S. resident.

While studying at Bergen Community, he heard about NJIT; that it had a great civil engineering department. So after his first year,  he transferred to NJIT and majored in civil engineering.  He loved the classes, the university and most of all his professors. “My professors were amazing,” says Alexander. “They taught me all I know but also recommended me for scholarships and internships. I’m so grateful.”

After three years at NJIT, Alexander has much to be grateful for. He is a senior in the Honors College with a 3.94 GPA. He belongs to the Chi Epsilon Civil Engineering Honor Society and recently won a fellowship from Tau Beta Pi, the National Engineering Honor Society. He has five scholarships and last summer was an intern for Tilcon New York, a leading materials supplier. 

And recently Alexander got some good news in the mail – an acceptance letter from Princeton University. In the fall he’ll attend Princeton, where he’ll pursue a master’s degree in civil engineering. Princeton offered him a coveted presidential fellowship that covers his tuition and fees and even includes a stipend.  He’ll do research in structural engineering and also work as a teaching assistant. 

So his boyhood dream – to become a builder of bridges and skyscrapers -- is fast becoming an actuality, one that surprises even him. After he gets his master’s, he intends to work as a structural engineer.

“I always knew that I’d pursue my academic goals,” says Alexander, “but I didn't know exactly how. Looking back at the road I’ve traveled -- beginning as a window and door maker -- I never imagined I’d be attending Princeton with a President's Fellowship and a Tau Beta Pi Fellowship. I am grateful for every opportunity NJIT gave me. That made all these things possible."

(By Robert Florida, Office of Strategic Communications)