Growing up two blocks away from Tweed-New Haven Airport, Jadon Gomez-Stafford marveled at the planes flying overhead and dreamed of someday designing them.
“I thought ‘Hey, I want to work on these objects that are able to lift off, fly fast, and get to places in a short amount of time,’” he says.
His interest grew stronger when his mother bought him a telescope and they would search for the stars together. So, when he heard about a new scholarship program at UConn supported by Pratt & Whitney, he didn’t hesitate to apply.
Whip-smart and ambitious, Gomez-Stafford is one of five freshmen from underrepresented groups selected for the first class of UConn’s Pratt & Whitney Scholars Program, which is designed to increase diversity in engineering fields.
The company has committed $1.25 million to the program to help students from underrepresented groups study engineering at UConn. The program helps pay their tuition for all four years and provides a summer internship as well as professional development and mentorship opportunities.
Being selected for the program gave Gomez-Stafford a major confidence boost and the reassurance that he had chosen the right career path.
“Knowing that people want me, want my ideas, want my creativity, want me for what I’m able to produce for them while also helping me is really magical,” he says. “I never had that growing up before college.”
Gomez-Stafford is the second oldest of four children raised single-handedly by his mother. Though his parents, both college graduates, were strong supporters of their children’s education, Gomez-Stafford said he never felt much support in his middle school and high school in New Haven.
“It was really hard as a minority because I felt kind of isolated. I was really smart, but no one really pushed me and there wasn’t a good environment around me,” he says.
“I was in honors classes with predominantly white students so I kind of felt like an outsider even though I was friends with them. I felt like no one was really encouraging minorities in public schools and inner-city schools. I felt like I was alone for most of my middle school and high school career.”
His world began to change when he was accepted into the summer BRIDGE program at UConn. The intensive, academic-enrichment program held on the Storrs campus helps prepare women and other incoming freshmen from underrepresented groups for the rigor of UConn’s engineering curriculum.
“It was eye-opening because a lot of people in the BRIDGE program were in the same boat as me. Meeting these people and hearing their stories really helped me. It made me realize that I should be here, I deserve to be here, and that engineering is something I want to do,” he says, adding that he’s become friends with many of the students he’s met through the program. He has also joined UConn’s Air Force ROTC program and dreams of someday becoming an astronaut.
He says his UConn experience has helped him come into his own and encouraged him to reach out to help other students.
“Now, here in college, I like to express myself a lot more,” he says. “I have the opportunity to be myself here at UConn, to be the person I always wanted to be.”