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Best & Brightest: An Immigrant’s Story From a Community College to Cornell

It was a bit unsettling, all the moving around Julio Torres did as a child, from the Dominican Republic, to Puerto Rico, to live with a grandmother; to the United States, to live with an aunt. When he wasn’t moving, he was working: at an auto shop, then selling esquimalitos (homemade ice cream), then he worked jobs at a woodshop — all before the age 17.

All of that moving affected his friendships, but seemed to feed his curiosity and drive. 

“I was the boy that would break the toys to see what was inside,” Julio Torres remembers.  So when a family friend who was taking an architectural college course came to his home in the Dominican Republic with an illustration of a house, young Julio was amazed by his first introduction to architecture.

“I think that’s where it started,” says Julio, a Cornell University transfer student who graduated from Morrisville State College (MSC) with an associate degree in Architectural Studies & Design in May. 

Julio moved to Bronx, N.Y. to live with an aunt at the age of 17. That summer he took some English as a Second Language classes before starting South Bronx High School. Once he graduated, he decided to continue his education at Morrisville State College.

Julio, now 22, has a long list of accomplishments as a scholar, athlete and volunteer: he was president of the Latin American Student Organization (LASO), a member of the basketball team, and an academic peer tutor for computer-aided design and Spanish. An inductee in the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society, Julio also  received MSC’s Tony Patane Award, an honor bestowed upon an African-American or Latino student enrolled in an engineering technology curriculum in recognition of academic excellence. And as a Sheila C. Johnson fellow, he participated in various workshops and activities that enhance social, academic and professional experiences and the necessary skills for development of students’ individual career paths.

Although he says Dominican children are “raised with the working spirit,” Julio attributes his drive to achieve to his familial bonds. “For me, motivation’s been [my] family. It’s knowing that I can be able to help all those people that helped me get where I am. I want to be able to give back.” 

Dr. Raymond Cross, president of Morrisville State College, is proud of Torres’ accomplishments. He says, “Julio has been involved in so many activities on campus and has worked endless hours to prepare a detailed 3D walk-around tour of the campus. I have had the privilege of placing the Chancellor’s Excellence Award around his neck, helping him transfer with advanced status into Cornell’s prestigious architectural college, helping him meet and talk with prominent architects and seeing his proud father — who came to the United States for the first time when Julio graduated, smiling with pride as he accepted his honors diploma at graduation. Julio is a terrific young man with incredible potential as an architect.”

Julio’s determination, hunger for knowledge and willingness to go above and beyond simply listening and surveying in class helped him excel in his chosen major.

Dr. Anne Schaper Englot, chair of the Engineering Technologies Department and associate professor of architectural studies & design at MCS, taught Julio in one of her classes. “Julio is self-motivated and gifted. He is a rare individual who intuitively understands how to assert his presence and impact in any situation in a positive manner and with a maturity and grace beyond his years. He has made connections all across campus and has availed himself of every possible resource. He is a remarkable young man.”

Over the summer, Julio interned at SUNY Cortland’s Office of Facilities, Planning, Design, & Construction, where he updated several of their building plans.  He also designed concrete slabs for new bus stop shelters, and did some planning for the striping of a parking lot.  A successful product of the Pathways to Success program, which helps community college students transfer to prestigious four-year institutions, Julio is the first MSC graduate to be accepted into Cornell’s architecture program.

Once he earns his bachelor’s, he has set his sights on applying to the master’s program at Harvard University and possibly opening his own architecture firm one day.

Englot is ecstatic about Julio’s potential and bright future. “Remember the name Julio Torres: his vision will be driving innovation in the architectural world someday!”

–Lelita L. Cannon


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