When Monica Davila’s family vacationed in Central Florida from Puerto Rico, the Kennedy Space Center was a destination they always had to visit. What Davila didn’t know was that she would one day intern at NASA, and earn a degree in mechanical engineering from a university in close proximity to the space coast — UCF.
What Davila did know was that she had an interest in math and science, and she repeatedly won her school’s science fairs, usually with a project related to mechanical engineering. She later enrolled at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico to study engineering. While there, she completed a summer internship at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. But her education and career plans were soon put on pause.
Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2017, destroying much of the island and severely damaging the classrooms Davila’s university. With classes postponed, Davila began to fear she wouldn’t realize her dream of becoming an engineer.
After spending countless nights sleeping on the balcony of her family’s apartment, and after patiently waiting to secure airline tickets to flee the island, her family was finally able to fly to the U.S. They landed in Philadelphia, the only location they could find tickets to, and drove down to Florida to be with family. When Davila heard that Florida state universities were waiving tuition for those displaced by Hurricane Maria, she started to research each university. That’s when she discovered UCF.
“I visited the university and fell in love with the campus and the people, and was so surprised on how kind they were to the refugees,” Davila said. “It was like a long-needed hug and I started to regain hope for my educational future.”
The transfer to UCF was a learning experience in itself. Davila learned to live independently as an adult; she became fully bilingual; and she adjusted to learning at one of the largest universities in the U.S. after attending the smallest university in Puerto Rico. She also solidified her knowledge of engineering, which she said she wouldn’t have been to acquire anywhere else but UCF.
What she also couldn’t gain anywhere else was participation in the UCF Lockheed Martin College Work Experience Program. At the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico, she applied to several different internships offered by Lockheed Martin. But she was never selected until she became a Knight. Her CWEP experience turned into a full-time job. She now serves as a manufacturing engineer for Lockheed’s missiles and fire control division.
“I knew I had what it took to be a Lockheed Martin engineer, but I needed the chance to prove it,” she said. “UCF gave me that chance via the CWEP program and that gift is something that I will always carry with me.”
Davila graduated with her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering earlier this month. Although she could never have guessed how her educational journey would have turned out, she is certain of one thing — she’ll always be proud to be a Knight.
“UCF has given me so much,” she said. “They opened their arms to me when I wanted to continue my studies after the hurricane. Their advisors helped me to get through the difficulties of being a transfer student and being homesick. I am and will always be proud to be a knight and UCF will always be a part of my identity.”