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Gift of loan repayment changes lives for Hispanic female engineering students

  • By Linda Fresques
  • 575-646-7416
  • lfresque@nmsu.edu
  • May 24, 2022
Man standing outside building
E. Eugene Carter describes himself as a person of privilege: an American white male born during an era when those attributes provided advantages not available to all. His wife, Rita M. Rodriguez, began her American journey at 16 – a Cuban refugee with a penniless, non-English speaking family with no education.

Both earned doctoral degrees and rose to highly successful careers, but Carter never forgot the disparity of their beginnings. Now a retired finance professor, his passion is helping Hispanic women pursue their success as engineers. Toward that end, he founded the E. Eugene Carter (EEC) Foundation to honor his father, a self-taught engineer and his wife, an international finance expert.

The foundation supports undergraduate female engineering students, giving priority to first-generation Hispanic women. Upon completion of their engineering degrees, Opportunity Award recipients’ Federal Direct Subsidized loans up to $20,000 will be repaid by the university from funds provided by the foundation.

“The point is students are told typically as sophomores that their loans will be repaid when they graduate. Persistence to a degree is the problem we want to mitigate by making sure students have a big incentive,” said Carter.

Carter launched the EEC Foundation which to date has funded 300 plus undergraduate engineering students, more than 250 of whom have already graduated and had their student loans repaid as of the end of 2022.  Two NMSU engineering students received the scholarships and graduated in 2021. Four additional recipients graduated this May.

“This award helped relieve so much stress associated with taking out loans and the idea of repaying them after graduation. It allowed me to focus on earning my engineering degree. This award truly motivated me to continue my education in engineering,” said Chance Jaramillo, who is receiving her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. She will move to San Bernardino, California to begin her career at Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.

Another recent graduate, Maria-Adeliz Ordoñez, will work for Lockheed Martin full time this summer and start graduate school in the fall at NMSU. “This award meant a great deal to my family and I. It was a great help and truly a blessing,” she said.

“I saw the unfairness I thought women faced,” said Carter, whose mother had a college degree and a librarian’s certificate but did not work outside the home in accordance with attitudes of the ‘50s. “The world persisted in this attitude about women with careers. I wanted to do something constructive to help women and women of Latin heritage and the country needs engineers. I also feel women likely will improve the profession in terms of a broader outlook and range of problems considered.” 

Carter earned master’s and doctoral degrees in industrial administration at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University). He became an assistant professor of finance at Harvard University.

Rodriguez arrived in Miami, 16 years old and a high school graduate. She studied bookkeeping at a vocational school and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico. She saved enough money to enroll in one semester of economics at New York University, which subsequently financed her Ph.D. in international economics.

Carter and Rodriguez met at Harvard where she was applying for a faculty position. The senior professor in the department said Rodriguez was the brightest candidate they’d seen in years, but a woman should not be teaching at Harvard Business School. An enlightened dean prevailed and Rodriguez was the first full-time female tenure-track professor at Harvard Business School where she taught international finance.

Carter and Rodriguez married in 1972. Carter went on to teach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then they moved to Chicago in 1977 where they both taught at the University of Illinois where Carter was head of the department of finance.

Carter took an unusual step, and retired to become a stay-at-home dad when Rodriguez was called by the Reagan administration and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as independent director of the Export-Import Bank of the United States in 1982.  She served 17 years until 1999 under the Reagan, H. W. Bush and Clinton administrations. Carter served as associate dean and professor at the University of Maryland at College Park.

“I was born an economist,” said Carter. Befitting his vocation, Carter appreciates data. The Society of Women Engineers 2019 Research Facts show that his scholarship investment is well-directed.

  • 22%--bachelor’s degrees in engineering earned by women in 2018
  • 15%--had engineering jobs in 2019
  • 7%--bachelor’s degrees in engineering earned by women of color in 2018
  • 6%--women of color in engineering jobs in 2019

“Supporting underrepresented students in engineering, including females, Hispanics and first-generation, is a primary focus of the College of Engineering,” said College of Engineering Dean Lakshmi N. Reddi. “We have numerous programs actively working toward this goal. While still in the minority, I am very proud of the fact that our female engineers are graduating faster and with higher GPAs that their male counterparts.”

“This award is life-changing for me. …I am forever grateful to Dr. Carter for establishing such an outstanding award,” said Jaramillo.

Ordoñez had some advice for other students like her: “Believe in yourself. No matter what makes you feel like you can’t, or who tells you won’t succeed—ignore the negativity. Keep going and don’t give up.”

And Carter’s advice: “All of us form expectations and then have experiences throughout our lives. Most of our life lessons come as our learning occurs via the mix of our expectations and what life sends our way. ‘God deals the cards. We have to play them,’ as I was told. Empathy, learning how others perceive what they face, can teach valuable lessons beyond one’s own experiences. Practice it.”

For more information about the EEC Foundation, visit https://eecfoundation.org/

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