Brooklyn, NY — When Dany Salas left the Dominican Republic for New York in January 2008 to attend college, he was uncharacteristically silent for the first couple of months in his new country. That’s because he was afraid to speak English; his thick Spanish accent wasn’t understood and he felt self-conscious.
But 25-year-old Salas found a way to remedy the situation and hasn’t looked back. At New York City College of Technology’s (City Tech’s) commencement exercises on Tuesday, June 4, 11:30 a.m., in Manhattan’s Javits Center, he will march at the front of his class as the College’s 2013 valedictorian. Earning a bachelor of technology degree in computer systems, Salas compiled a grade point average of 3.93 out of a possible 4.00 and is graduating Summa Cum Laude.
Commencement will be especially sweet for him because his mother, sister and brother will be part of an audience of nearly 6,000 people who will see him deliver his valedictory address. This will mark the first time in their lives away from the Dominican Republic and the first time Salas will have seen them in more than four years. His father and cousin will also be present.
A key to Salas’ success, besides a keen intelligence and dogged perseverance, is that he makes the most of every opportunity and seems to shine brightest when the competition is most intense.
Take, for instance, the circumstances under which he came to City Tech. Salas acted on an ad he read in a local newspaper in the Dominican Republic that the government’s Ministerio de Educacion Superior, Ciencia y Tecnologia (Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology) was offering full scholarships to study at The City University of New York in the United States. He was one of 48 recipients out of 300 applicants.
In the Dominican Republic, Salas had graduated from a polytechnic high school and had received an associate degree in industrial digital electronics. His interest in computer systems with concentrations in network administration and computer security led him to City Tech.
Arriving here in January 2008, he was placed in English as a Second Language intensive classes for the spring. Despite his problems speaking English, he was hired as a summer camp counselor for seven- and eight-year-old boys and girls. “Some of the kids helped me with my pronunciation and were my toughest teachers. I grew more confident speaking English because of them,” he recalls. At the end of camp, the director said he didn’t think Salas was going to be successful as a counselor, but that he had exceeded expectations. Salas returned the following two summers and was named Counselor of the Year in 2010.
Without his immediate family to help him with the transition to a new country and culture, Salas bonded with several of the other students who had come to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic to attend college and friends he met on his own. “I learned that real friends are like family and can be pillars of support in helping you accomplish your dreams,” he says.
Once he felt at home at City Tech, Salas challenged himself to take a leadership role. He was president of the Computer Club, vice president and founder of the Gay-Straight Alliance, a peer advisor for first-year students, the Microsoft student partner ambassador for the College, a member of the City Tech Honors Scholars Program, and a participant in the Office of Student Life’s annual leadership retreat. “It was my turn to give back to others,” he says about his role as a first-year student advisor.”
“All these extracurricular activities helped me learn to exercise critical thinking, brainstorming and decision-making skills, how to plan and execute a project, how to listen to people and create synergy to accomplish tasks,” he says. “They taught me how to socialize and increase my network of people, and improve verbal and communication skills among other skills.” He especially thanks the Office of Student Life & Development’s Director Daniel Fictum and Assistant Director Alice Tucker for their encouragement.
Salas’ accomplishments have been duly noted by Marcela Armoza, City Tech’s vice president of enrollment and student services. “I’ve observed Dany’s journey here with great pride,” she says. “I am absolutely delighted, albeit not surprised at his academic success. He never lost sight of his goals. He is a man of honor and resolve, and a powerful role model for other Latino students.”
One day Salas saw a flyer tacked to a bulletin board at City Tech about the Goldman Sachs Technology Bridge Program Internship. He applied and was one of seven students accepted for the six-week paid internship, after which he was called back for a 10-week summer internship. Then, he was offered a full-time job. He now works as an information technology analyst for Goldman Sachs in its Jersey City office. His immediate plans are to earn a master’s degree and more certifications in information technology.
“I really like my job,” he says. “I get to use my skills to solve problems for the company and in return I’m given lots of chances for career development and professional growth. My colleagues come from all over the world and eagerly share their experience with me.”
Salas, who now lives in Jersey City, is passionate about education and technology after working with his City Tech computer systems professors to help promote the FIRST robotic competition among high school students. “I believe there’s a lot of work to do to educate children and young adults to use technology to solve practical problems. I’d like to help develop such a competition for children in the Dominican Republic.”
Lest he be pegged as a computer geek, Salas really enjoys the arts. His hobbies are playing the guitar, singing and photography. “My parents gave me my first guitar when I was 16 years old and I started guitar classes right away. In about a month I was directing and playing the guitar for a small children’s chorus at my local church. I see music and performing as a challenge — you can’t be successful at it if you don’t spend time rehearsing and perfecting your craft.”
Salas and his best friend recently formed LVLUP Entertainment, a songwriting and music production partnership. “We had our first concert back in September and are looking forward to continuing with this project,” he says. “What started as a hobby could possibly become a successful company.”
One gets the feeling that no matter what Salas tries, he will be successful. “I’ve learned that if you constantly challenge yourself and don’t take anything for granted, you won’t miss out on opportunities. That’s one message I’m going to share with my fellow graduates,” he says.
New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of The City University of New York (CUNY) is the largest public college of technology in New York State. Located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, the College enrolls more than 16,000 students in 65 baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs.