From an early age, Ronaldo H. Franjul was exposed to gun violence in the neighborhoods around his school, racism and xenophobia for being a Dominican. Despite losing many friendships as a teenager to drug dealing, the 24-year-old persevered, graduating with honors and on his way to completing his doctorate at Purdue University in Indiana.
“When I graduated chemical materials engineer, I would like to go back to Puerto Rico to practice as a teacher. Maybe so I could give a little of what the teachers gave me. I want to impact other lives like mine and many other friends did,” Franjul said via video call from California, where she is completing a program to pay for her graduate studies as part of a scholarship she won.
The University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Campus Río Piedras graduate graduated last week with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the Faculty of Natural Sciences with the Summa Cum Laude distinction. In August, he begins his doctoral studies in the Materials Engineering Program at Purdue University in Indiana. After being accepted to six prestigious universities across the United States, he chose Purdue.
“Mama, I persevered! I persevered when half my friends were killed. I persevered when I had to be self-taught in elementary and high school. I persevered when I entered the IUPI…”, the student shared a few days ago on Facebook, a story that went viral on social networks.
Franjul was born on July 9, 1998 in New Jersey, in the northeast of the United States, but three months later he moved to the Dominican Republic, where he lived until he was six years old. During that time, for economic reasons, he was separated from his mother, who had three jobs to send money to her other children and to regularize her immigration status in Puerto Rico.
“I had three jobs at the same time, so I couldn’t take care of myself. He decided that the best thing, at that moment, was to send me to the Dominican Republic with my grandmother. So I lived with my grandmother until she passed away, and then I stayed with my aunt,” said the 24-year-old, who just transformed yesterday.
For Franjul, his mother Amarilis Franjul Alcántara, 50, was the beacon that helped him achieve all his goals.
“My mother is a tremendous warrior. She started from scratch. He had to stop studying so he could help my grandfather because he was going through an economic situation,” he shared about his mother.
The chemist recalled that, upon arriving in Puerto Rico, he was bullied. He entered Alejandro Tapia Primary School in Santurce in second grade. He indicated that he felt inequality and resentment between the Dominican and Puerto Rican people. “I think I was bullied a lot when I was starting out because I had a strong accent,” he said.
“My mother helped me grow up. She prepared me, told me what was going to happen. She told me that I didn’t need to change or stop being who I was because of what people thought,” she pointed out about one of her mother’s teachings.
Later in your life, experienced the consequences of poverty and organized crime on young people. Since the age of 10, he has seen armed boys at his public school and wandering around the school’s entrance in the city of Río Piedras.
“We heard gunshots during classes. More than once, we had to throw ourselves on the ground for fear of getting shot. I saw how many of my elementary school classmates, from childhood, were already romanticizing the idea of working at drug points,” Franjul said.
The scientist pointed out that he saw how many of his friends took the wrong path and dropped out of studies. “It was very traumatic to know that I lost most of my friends from elementary school when we were in high school, and the same thing when we were at Ramón Vila Mayo school in Río Piedras. (…) Yes, it marked me”, shared the rooster of the UPR.
Mom, I will persevere! I persevered when half my friends were killed. I persevered when I had to be self-taught in elementary and high school. I persevered entering the IUPI.
Despite the fact that many of his public school classes do not have laboratories due to lack of resources, he stressed that his teachers instilled in him a love for science. “We didn’t have a lab or anything, but yeah, the passion was there. The teacher made sure that we could see everything in the best possible light,” he said.
He entered the Campus Río Piedras of the UPR with the intention of completing his bachelor’s degree in Accounting Sciences, but moved, in the second semester, to the Faculty of Natural Sciences. Initially, he did not apply because of his true passion as he needed to get a job that would bring immediate benefits to his family. “I knew that maybe doing science wasn’t the best option, not because it’s not a viable career, but because it’s not a career where you can get a job right away,” he said.
He worked, together with his mother, at the Los Vegetarianos post of the Faculty of Arts on the Rio Piedras campus for several years. His mother has worked at the UPR for over 20 years. Her family currently has a business in the urban area of Río Piedras for eight years.
During his university career, Franjul participated, for 10 semesters, in research related to material sciences, nanotechnology and electrochemistry. Furthermore, he did three summer internships during his high school.
“Do not underestimate the potential that public schools and teachers have because, on more than one occasion, they insisted on closing our school. Fighting for my school is what allowed me to get here,” she said.