When Oscar Tapia was 13 years old he always carried a dictionary. It was his friend and his teacher -- his passport to a brighter future. He had just arrived from Mexico and was eager to learn English.
Now, 16 years later, diligence and the love of learning for this NJIT senior majoring in computer engineering has paid off. Tapia, now a Clifton resident, recently was named the recipient of Google’s $5,000 Hispanic College Fund scholarship. The scholarship is given yearly to Hispanic students who have overcome obstacles and done excellent work in computer science. Winners must demonstrate a commitment to improving their community.
(ATTENTION TO MEDIA: To set up an interview with Tapia, contact Sheryl Weinstein at 973-596-3436.)
Tapia certainly has met those requirements. Not only has this husband and father of two young boys earned excellent grades, but he has also spent countless hours mentoring mostly first-generation students considering college.
Tapia, who is soft-spoken and humble, is grateful for the scholarship. “I place a high value on education,” he said. “When I came to America at age 13, I saw first-hand that life without an education could be harsh. My relatives wanted better things for themselves and their families, but they were limited by their lack of an education.”
Although Tapia has had to work -- either part time or full time -- to pay for his classes, this Dover High School graduate has still maintained a perfect 4.0 grade-point average. He’s also remained a tremendous educational proponent.
Not that getting a college education has been easy for this first-generation Mexican immigrant. When Tapia graduated from high school, he wasn’t able to afford college and worked years to save money. Eventually he could buy a computer – the first he had ever owned. The technology captivated him. He'd log on and teach himself whatever he could. One night, staring into the computer screen, he saw his future.
“I can't tell you how much time Oscar spends talking to people about the value and importance of education,” said his wife Susana, herself a medical student. “He's worked hard to get an education and he wants others to have the same.” Susana, like Tapia, also gives back to the community. She volunteers at a health center in Newark.
Prior to attending NJIT, Tapia earned a technical degree and went on to Passaic County College where he was able to take advantage of the articulation agreement with NJIT. He is due to graduate this May with a perfect grade-point average.