When Bladimir Uran was in his freshman year of college — at the University of Rhode Island — his parents decided to move to southwest Florida.
Bladimir had to make a decision. Because he had lived in Rhode Island the age of nine, when his parents emigrated from Colombia, he opted to stay at URI. But with his parents in Florida, his residency status changed and, Bladimir, who was struggling with the large class sizes at URI, then lost his financial aid.
His path to college then detoured to Florida, where he worked for a year before enrolling at Edison State College in Fort Myers. There, he loved the small classes and the interaction with his professors. After earning his A.A. at Edison State, Bladimir moved to Orlando to study engineering at the University of Central Florida.
But after he arrived on the Orlando campus, he found himself facing the same problems that plagued him at the University of Rhode Island. “Once again, in those big classrooms, it was hard to concentrate,” says Bladimir. “It’s hard to listen to a teacher when he’s all the way down there… and you’re all the way up here.”
When UCF put him on academic probation, Bladimir decided to take a few classes at Valencia, in hopes of boosting his GPA. He knew the classes would be smaller, and if they were anything like Edison, he’d get more interaction with the instructors.
As luck would have it, one of his first classes was taught by Dr. Ali Notash, who taught the class about lasers. “I thought it sounded pretty interesting,” Bladimir recalls. “I began thinking, ‘Maybe I want to go into this field.’” So when Notash told Bladimir that Valencia was planning to take over UCF’s bachelor’s program in electrical engineering technology, Bladimir was excited. Finally, he could get an engineering degree at a college that offered the small classes where he could thrive.
And after he started in Valencia’s engineering program, in classes of 20 to 30 students, he was excited to find that Valencia’s professors teach engineering from a hands-on perspective, not the theoretical material presented at most universities.
“When we came here, we didn’t know how to use some of the equipment in the lab, like oscilloscopes and that kind of thing,” Bladimir says. “So the professors took us back to basics.”
In addition to smaller classes, the professors reached out to help students. “My professors here know me,” Bladimir says. “One of my teachers said, ‘Email me any time of the day and I’ll get back to you.’ And they do. I sent him an email at 12 a.m. and I got an email back from him at 12:03 a.m.”
During the program, the students in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology program learn, among other things, how to program microcontrollers and microprocessors. For his senior design project, Bladimir and a classmate are designing and building a machine that will sort candies like Skittles and M&Ms by color.
“It’s definitely challenging, but you learn a lot,” Bladimir says.
Like many Valencia students, Bladimir worked throughout his college career. To support himself and his wife,who’s a student at UCF, he works nights as a valet at an upscale hotel. He and his fellow engineering students have become a tight-knit group, though they see each other primarily in class.
“A couple of the guys have kids, some of them have daytime jobs,” says Bladimir, “so we socialize in class. But we’ve all gotten to know each other.”
Now, at age 29, he’s on the verge of making history—becoming one of the first students to earn a bachelor’s degree from Valencia College. And Bladimir—who learned English by watching cartoons—now hopes to get a job in the power-generation field or communications engineering.
He also hopes that other students will discover Valencia’s small classes and hands-on approach to engineering education.
“Hopefully the word will get out about this program,” he says. “The only reason I found out about it was because I took Ali Notash in a lasers class … but it turned out to be pretty cool.”