Reading High School grad overcomes obstacles, earns bachelor of science in engineering at Penn State Berks

Written by Lisa R. Baldi, Director of Strategic Communications at Penn State Berks.

When you meet Rogelio Flores, it’s hard to believe that he once considered dropping out of high school. The Reading High School graduate will cross the stage to earn his baccalaureate degree in electro-mechanical engineering technology, with a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation, at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 4, during the Penn State Berks spring commencement ceremony at the Santander Arena in Reading.

Flores explained that when he was in high school, he didn’t see the point in finishing his education and wanted to help support his family. That’s when he says his mother “smacked him with a reality check” about the importance of not only completing high school but going on to college and pursuing opportunities that his parents never had.

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That talk made an impact. Flores got involved in the Upward Bound Program at Reading High, which helps high school students to succeed in their pre-college performance and ultimately in their higher education pursuits. He then applied to Penn State, originally planning to attend Berks for his first two years before transferring to University Park.

“I always envisioned going to Penn State University Park but I ended up loving it here at Penn State Berks and it’s so close to home,” Flores stated.

As a first-generation college student, Flores began his college career in the Penn State Berks Aspiring Scholars Program, a one-week residential summer bridge program that offers support to first-year students by providing access to services and programs that prepare them for a successful transition into a college environment.

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“I’m super grateful for the Aspiring Scholars Program,” stated Flores. “At first, I was scared to come to Penn State Berks with everything I needed to know. I was grateful for the mentors I had in the program. I learned and experienced a lot and made lasting friendships.”

Flores was so impressed by the impact of the Aspiring Scholars Program that he decided to serve as an Aspiring Scholars mentor every summer after completing his first academic year.

He was also involved in the Pathway to Success: Summer Start (PaSSS) Program, which provides an opportunity for invited first-year students to get a head start on their Penn State education. The program awards selected participants a scholarship of $2,000 for enrollment in two summer classes. Flores completed the program and returned as a mentor.

Despite the academic support he received, the road to earning a degree required a lot of hard work, but Flores was up to the task. In his first year of college, he worked the overnight shift at Target, yet he still made it to his morning classes on time. He continued to work at Target part-time for all four years.

His journey did not come without a few setbacks. Flores applied for a summer internship at SFS Group, a worldwide supplier of precision components and assemblies, mechanical fastening systems, quality tools and procurement solutions, located in Wyomissing. He was rejected the first summer he applied.

Then Alexa Hodge, coordinator of student support services and the Aspiring Scholars Program, encouraged him to keep moving forward and not to be discouraged. The following year, the manager of engineering services at SFS reached out and asked Flores if he was still interested in an internship. Flores has been working at SFS during the summers for the last two years as an intern/part-time employee.

During his time at Penn State Berks, Flores was a member of the Latinos United for Change student organization, and he served as a Learning Assistant with the Penn State Educational Partnership Program (PEPP), an early-intervention collaboration between Penn State Berks and the Reading School District. He said this is one way he could give back to his community.

Flores was recognized with the Penn State Berks Martin Luther King Jr. award in 2022 and the PEPP Service Award in 2022.

While a strong foundation in math and science led him to major in engineering, his desire to become an entrepreneur is what led him to minor in entrepreneurship.

Outside Penn State Berks, Flores serves as vice president of the Reading Youth Commission, which was formed by Reading’s City Council to give youth a platform for their concerns with city government. In this role, he is part of a committee that plans and partners with agencies to provide opportunities for youth.

“I’m trying to be a voice for youth,” Flores stated. “I want to help give those in my community an opportunity to participate in something fun and safe.”

When asked how Penn State Berks prepared him for the future, Flores stated, “Academically, I know what I am doing in my field. My time at Penn State Berks also reinforced my values of hardwork, morals and ethics. It has helped me to develop my networking skills and my ability to speak to people. I am grateful for all the connections I have made.”

Flores will begin a full-time position at SFS as an Engineer I in commercial construction on May 6.

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