With a social venture dedicated to education equity, an increasing role in student organizations, and an inspiring story, junior Hector Carvajal, once a high school dropout, is a new leader on our campus.
An immigrant from the Dominican Republic to the Bronx, Carvajal transferred from community college to UR in the fall of 2018.
A first-generation college student, Carvajal’s story begins in the small Dominican farming town of Las Barias. When he was eight, his parents successfully petitioned to gain permanent residency in the U.S. Newly arrived, he faced a significant disadvantage. He couldn’t speak English, and could barely read or write Spanish. He grew up in a low-income community, with few role models that went to college or graduated high school. His mother worked two to three jobs, and in high school he skipped school to work, eventually dropping out.
In 2013, Carvajal and his mother returned to the Dominican Republic for six months. He worked in the fields, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., picking onions and pumpkins. Working alongside many children, he wondered why these young kids were working instead of being in school. After asking their parents, he learned that the families had no other option. The families couldn’t secure their meals if the children didn’t work.
This experience was the impetus for Carjaval’s transformation. He realized, “I had everything I need through the struggles of my mother. I wasn’t taking advantage of my opportunities in New York.”
When Carvajal returned, he re-enrolled in high school and graduated in two years. He then enrolled in community college where he became student body president and a Kaplan Leadership Scholar.
In 2018, he transferred to UR, citing his desire for better support and student resources. “Some of the times I’ve failed in my life is because I didn’t have the right support system or no support system at all,” Carvajal said. “When I’ve succeeded is when I had mentorship, a good support system and somebody there to guide me through the way.”
Carvajal has already become a mentor in his communities. The summer before arriving at UR, he created a social venture called Carvajal Cares, which targets educational disparity. Its first project is fundraising to improve conditions at Escuela Basica Graciosa Elvira Cueves, an elementary and middle school in Las Barias. The money will go toward the building of a kitchen and computer center and a stipend for volunteers. Carvajal Cares has raised half of the $3,500 goal in eight months and Carjaval hopes to raise the rest by mid-August.
Besides his work for Carvajal Cares, he also meets with students like himself, telling them they belong in a four-year college and that they need to progress. He advises them to plan ahead, to envision themselves somewhere, and to work toward that vision.
“My main goal is to help people see that they have potential,” Carvajal said. “Some people fall off and lose the vision that they have potential, that they can get much further than they think they can or whatever society [says] they can.”
Even though he only transferred last semester, Carvajal’s presence has already been felt on campus. Last semester he gave a talk on Carvajal Cares at iZone. He started an environmentally friendly coffee subscription service called Don Carvajal Café. Now, he is the vice president of the Rochester Business Association.
From his communities in the Dominican Republic and the Bronx to UR, Carvajal is a role model and mentor, with the drive to continue affecting change.
“No matter what obstacles you face, as long as you put in the work, you’ll end up where you need to end up,” Carvajal said. “Everyone has a unique story, so tell your own story.”