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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Road to Success leads from Medellin, to Kingston, to Paris

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KINGSTON, R.I. —January 20, 2010--Juan Cano’s often-bumpy road to success runs from Medellin, to Kingston, to Paris. Born in Medellin, he lived there for 14 years until the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels kidnapped his father.

Fortunately, one of the rebels recognized Juan’s father as his former boss who had treated him fairly. The rebel, at great risk to himself, released the father from captivity. Still in danger, the family left the homeland they loved to begin a new life in the smallest state of a new country.

It was a difficult adjustment. Juan who was learning advanced algebra concepts and trigonometry in Medellin was placed in a simple addition class as an ESL student in Pawtucket. Yet Juan pushed for the necessary courses to get to college.

After a year at CCRI, he was recruited by Talent Development and enrolled in URI’s International Engineering Program, a five-year program that would lead him simultaneously to degrees in mechanical engineering and the French language. “The world has become a narrower place,” he says explaining his choice of learning a third language- French instead of Spanish, in which he was fluent. “The understanding of another language and culture is key to good relationships with business and peers.”

Just as Juan’s father was about to become an accredited math teacher, he suffered a stroke and was hospitalized for months. Juan, who had just finished his junior year at URI, was needed at home to translate. Understanding his situation, his URI professors rushed to help, giving him work to do online and sending him updates on what he needed to cover.

Today, Juan is completing his engineering degree with a 9-month internship at Saint-Gobain, a global leader in construction markets and innovative, building materials. He is helping validate a model that describes the stress that glass and thin film undergo in the thermal processes.

His apartment in Saint-Ouen is a few blocks away from Paris. When Juan returns to campus and graduates in May, his road will widen. As he searches for a career that draws on his engineering and language skills, his supportive family will surely be passengers on the ride.