Being the first can be intimidating.
The first person down an unmapped trail or in a new place can be frightening and lonely. For Melvin Montenegro, college was uncharted territory. His family emigrated from Guatemala City, Guatemala, and he would be the first member of the family to go to college.
Montenegro bravely faced the unknown, found his place at the W. P. Carey School of Business, and graduated in May as the Outstanding Graduating Senior in the Department of Information Systems.
“Going through everything as a first-generation student, being new to everything, and being the first one to tackle it, that was tough at first,” Montenegro says. “After I had started to get involved and see more of a support system, it got a lot easier, and that’s what has made these last few years so much fun and easy to be here and get everything done.”
Montenegro will receive concurrent degrees in finance and computer information systems. After graduation, he’ll relocate to Sunnyvale, Calif., where he’ll begin his career as an analyst at Google.
Montenegro always had his sights set on college. He knew he’d go regardless of the challenges. However, Montenegro didn’t see technology in his future. He planned to focus on finance. A class in high school introduced him to finance, and numbers made sense to him, especially in a business setting.
It wasn’t until a classmate suggested he look into the computer information systems program that he realized how important it is to businesses.
“I realized how much I enjoyed it,” Montenegro says. “I thought it’d be a good thing to know.”
He started learning software programs and tools designed to help businesses, and that led to coding, for which he had a knack. Seeing his first coding assignment work was the moment he realized this would be his career path.
“The first assignment wasn’t easy, and at that point, I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue along that degree path, but once I finished the assignment and saw that my code worked, that’s when everything clicked for me,” he explains. “Even though it wasn’t easy, I loved the process of coding, and all I wanted to do was learn more about programming.”
Montenegro put his nose in his textbooks and worked hard. His top priority: getting a high grade-point average. He admitted that he thought it was the most important factor when being considered for internships, graduate school, and full-time jobs after graduation. Montenegro will be graduating with a 3.87 GPA, but he quickly learned that a successful college experience wasn’t all about the grades.
“Throughout my time in the W. P. Carey School of Business, I realized that being involved in different clubs and organizations holds just as much weight as having a high GPA,” he says. “That is why I credit my success to the many extracurricular activities in which I have participated,” he wrote in his nomination letter to the department.
Montenegro is the vice president of finance for the Department of Information Systems Club (DISC), responsible for the club’s bookkeeping, and he organizes and tracks funding for events.
Montenegro also helped out with DISC’s community instruction program, CIP. Club members hold regular weekly meetings with citizens in the community to teach them basic computer skills.
“I was able to see the importance of helping people within our community, even if it was as simple as showing someone how to create an email account so they could write to their grandkids,” he says.
Montenegro has the heart for helping, especially those overcoming obstacles and starting college.
He is a mentor with the Explore Program, which introduces high school students to W. P. Carey and matches them with mentors who can share their college experiences. He was also a mentor with the Fleischer Scholars Program where he got to work with underprivileged high school seniors. He even helped four of those seniors create a presentation about a product they came up with that would fix an issue in their community.
“It’s neat to be able to help out and be there for the younger students,” he says.
Montenegro has also worked as a facilitator with Camp Carey and WPC 101, where he mentored incoming freshman and helped them prepare for college life. He also helped other facilitators plan and present courses to the freshman.
“Melvin was a great mentor, offering support and advice to students as they navigated their first semester teaching a course,” wrote Student Engagement Coordinator Kate McCown in her Outstanding Graduating Senior letter of recommendation for Montenegro.
McCown supervised Montenegro in his work in WPC 101 and also wrote in her letter that she was impressed by his level of involvement in the W. P. Carey community, as well as his consistent success in his classes.
Someday, Montenegro would like to help those in his home country. According to the World Food Programme, Guatemala has one of the highest rates of chronic malnutrition in the world, at 47 percent, correlated with poverty, poor living conditions, low levels of education, and inappropriate nutrition practices.
“Being from Guatemala, a place where there is a lot of malnourished children, I take this issue to heart,” he says. “Because if you can give one of these kids food, you give them a second chance at life, you allow them a second chance to follow their dreams, get an education, and make a positive impact on the world.”
The Montenegro family is proud of their son and first college graduate, and now that he forged the path, other members of the Montenegro family are following in his footsteps. His sister will begin college at ASU in fall and will make her path in biomedical engineering.