Dr. Myron Wentz Science Center

From Ecuador to Engineering at North Central

Juan Samaniego

We sat down with junior Juan Samaniego to discuss his experience coming to North Central from Ecuador with the dream of pursuing a degree in engineering. His long journey to get here has been worth it thanks to the dedicated teaching and excellent access to resources he's enjoyed.

Can you tell us about your experience coming to North Central from Ecuador?

Coming to the United States as an international student can be intimidating. I had only been to the U.S. once and this was the first time I had to communicate entirely in English. The English that I learned in Ecuador is more academic, so there was a lot of technical vocabulary I had never heard before. It was a bit of cultural shock, but North Central made me feel safe and comfortable. Resources within the engineering program and The Center for Global Education gave me the confidence and opportunity to connect with my professors and the administration. My professors supported me from day one—they took the time to explain things and help me understand.

Juan Samaniego

Can you describe the engineering program at North Central?

My classes are very hands-on; we use the latest technology and equipment to experience all aspects of the engineering process. I remember one project in which we were asked to build a bridge, but it was more than just building a bridge and determining if it could stand—we conducted thorough analyses of the bridge and evaluated the most efficient way to build it in the future. It’s so much more than reading from a textbook; we are always applying what we learn in class to the projects we build.

Juan Samaniego in engineering lab

How did you become interested in engineering?

My father is an architect and my uncle is a civil engineer. One summer, I had the opportunity to work alongside my uncle; I enjoyed it, but decided civil engineering was too static for me. I was more interested in machines, robots and building new things. My father connected me with a different engineering opportunity and I immediately took an interest in mechanical engineering.


Ecuador is pretty far from Naperville. How did you become interested in studying engineering at North Central?

I found out about North Central through a program with the Fulbright Commission called Opportunity Funds. This program had helped me throughout my entire college search process and the program had previously helped place another student at North Central. The program encouraged me to apply. A North Central admissions counselor contacted my advisor in Ecuador and shared that North Central would be launching its engineering program the year I began college. It was perfect timing.


Once you discovered North Central, what made you decide to enroll?

I applied for engineering programs at larger universities, but I knew I wanted the attention afforded through smaller class sizes—similar to my classes in Ecuador. I chose North Central because I knew I would have access to my professors and resources to help me throughout my career. North Central offered all of the things that I wanted in a college.


What makes North Central’s engineering program so great?

The engineering program is very hands-on and constantly evolving—which aligns perfectly with the nature of the field itself. Another unique feature of the engineering program is the relationship you build with your professors. In just the third week of my freshman year, my professor invited me to conduct research with him. Three years later, we are still conducting research together on sustainable construction materials. During my time at North Central, I have always felt comfortable asking questions. My professors have always made time to answer questions, explain concepts, provide examples and walk me through topics. I never felt lost in the process. I think that’s what makes North Central special.


How is North Central preparing you for your future?

My professors have encouraged and equipped me to further my education. After I graduate from North Central, I plan to apply to Optional Practical Training (OPT), an extension to work in the U.S. After those two years, I would like to earn a master’s degree in a mechanical engineering specialization and a master's degree in business administration. I know I will leave prepared for the next stage of my education and my career.


What’s something that surprised you about North Central?

All of the students are trusted with state-of-the-art equipment and have access to cutting-edge technology. For example, each student in my class has a 3D printer. The lab is open 24/7 so we were allowed to use the printers every day. I could come in at 2 a.m. and print something if I needed to. North Central went to great lengths to ensure we had what we needed to succeed.

Since you are now past the halfway mark in your college career, do you have any advice for students considering North Central?

There are so many resources and opportunities at North Central. It’s incredibly easy to connect with your professors and receive important feedback. So, don’t be afraid to ask questions and engage with professors—they want to help you succeed. Don’t be afraid to ask for access to labs or to assist in new research; the professors at North Central encourage you to create new things.

Juan Samaniego in engineering lab