“I am living my dream,” says Hector H. Hernandez, who dropped out of a community college in 1987 and for nine years worked mostly on construction. Then, inspired by his mother’s coaxing and by a fabulous trip to Europe, he was determined to go back to college, where he says: “I fell in love with organic chemistry.” In 2000, he earned a degree in chemistry from the University of South Florida. During his senior year, he entered a national competition sponsored by the prestigious American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology — and he won. An MIT professor was at that San Francisco competition and encouraged him to apply to the Institute. “I always dreamed about MIT, but I never thought I’d be here,” he says. “I still walk through these halls and am filled inside with emotion. Being here is unbelievable.”

Hernandez, who is now an MIT Ph.D. candidate in chemistry, has won MIT’s Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award and the Department of Chemistry Teaching Award. He hopes one day to solve global energy problems. Also, he says, he would like to launch a crossdisciplinary research center that addresses the global problems of hunger, environmental sustainability, and alternative energy.

“I would love to contribute to the betterment of the world because you can make it happen. It doesn’t have to be just a dream.

“I believed that I would work construction for the rest of my life,” he says. “But my road to MIT was paved with people who believed in me. I feel it’s my job to pass on that inspiration to the next generation.”