The University of Texas at Dallas

Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science

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From Poverty to Professional Success, Engineering Grad Shares Story

From Poverty to Professional Success, Engineering Grad Shares Story

Luis Hall-Valdez graduated in the spring of 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and a minor in marketing. He won student competitions and landed a coveted internship at Texas Instruments. Between his coursework and internship, Luis served as a peer advisor, helping students navigate through college life.

Luis Valdez

On the surface, Luis’s achievements seem effortless, but his journey to walking the stage at UT Dallas’ Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science graduation ceremony included many false-starts, obstacles and sacrifices.

In high school, Luis faced constant change as he moved from city to city, state to state. He attended seven different schools in total.

“Life was hard,” Luis said. “I wore the same thing to school every day. My refrigerator was an ice chest, and my house was a small, beat-up trailer.”

Luis dropped out of high school his senior year when he had a chance to work full time. He took physically demanding jobs in construction and at an oil refinery. Luis recalls how he almost passed out while hammering on a roof.

“I wasn’t as hands-on as my coworkers, and they noticed. Construction workers are tough – very tough,” Luis said.

He might have continued as a construction worker, testing the limits of his body in the Texas heat, but his co-workers convinced him to give school another try.

“At the refinery, one older man, Pablo, never had the opportunity to attend school like I did. He encouraged me daily to return before it was too late,” Luis said.

Luis took his coworkers’ advice and earned his diploma.

After graduating, Luis joined the military. Although he was medically discharged from boot camp, the structure and intensity of the military motivated him. Within months, he started a military-inspired fitness organization. His small business quickly expanded and garnered media attention. News reports called his company the “hottest fitness program in Southeast Texas.”

“I found myself on TV weekly, flying to different places to meet people, partnering with big name gyms,” Luis said.

Though Luis launched a successful fitness program, he dreamed of completing his college education. Luis enrolled at Lamar University, near Houston, intending to study engineering.

Hall

“The success of my fitness program consumed me so that my grades suffered, and I struggled to focus on my education. I took digital media courses instead of engineering to market my new business,” Luis added.

Luis graduated with a bachelor’s in general studies. He could have been content with his accomplishments – he had finished high school, started a successful company and earned a college degree. However, Luis wanted more. He closed his business and returned to Lamar to study engineering.

“I struggled to walk away from a fruitful venture. After watching others achieve their transformational goals – goals that changed their life for the better – I made a sacrifice to achieve my own personal goals,” Luis said.

Luis’s return to engineering led to an internship in the oil and gas industry. Once again, he worked at an oil refinery – albeit in a different capacity – but he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to explore opportunities in the tech industry, so he traveled to Dallas.

Luis visited the Texas Instruments (TI) headquarters. There, he asked the security guard if he could talk to someone about working for the global company. The security guard didn’t grant him entry, but Luis learned about UT Dallas and the internship opportunities available at the Jonsson School.

Luis transferred to UT Dallas immediately and left the comforts of his home to pursue his goal of working at TI. This goal was his most challenging yet.

“Studying engineering at UT Dallas has been the hardest thing I have ever done. I spent many nights curled up in the fetal position because I had homework due that morning and was stuck on the first problem,” Luis said. “But, I stayed up all night because I wanted to improve. I want to win.”

Fortunately, Luis found the IEEE tutoring center IEEE UTD, the student branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which offers mentorship and guidance from fellow undergraduates and doctoral students. The volunteer tutors helped Luis understand difficult concepts and turned his sleepless nights into moments of clarity.

“Keith Hernandez, a doctoral student and one of the founders of the IEEE tutoring center, helped immensely. All he wanted was for me to succeed,” Luis added.

While mastering his engineering coursework, Luis wanted to take on more. He decided to minor in marketing in the Naveen Jindal School of Management.

“Through my minor, I learned about the formal process of selling. With the help of professors, mentors, seminar presenters and many talented students, I discovered the beauty of the process and how to use it while remaining true to my values,” Luis said.

Luis quickly mastered his sales skills and won UT Dallas’s Pro Sales Challenge, a student competition. He also competed in the Rookie Preview competition and placed 12th.

With his combination of engineering expertise and sales abilities, Luis discovered his calling.

“I discovered the career field of ‘sales engineering,’ which entails travel, networking, presentations, nurturing client relationships, and so much more,” Luis added. “In this field, I’m able to combine years of entertaining and motivating people with the understanding of complex products. The sales program helped me put it all together into a process that works.”

Hall

As for Luis’ goal of working at Texas Instruments, he achieved that, too. He received an internship offer while studying for finals in the library. He accepted the position of product marketing engineer and shouted aloud after hanging up the phone.

“I worked at TI with a child-like fascination. I loved it. From co-producing marketing material, researching market trends and understanding product success to leveraging that success and working directly with companies to find the best solutions, work was fun,” Luis said.

Looking back over his long journey to graduation, Luis credits many people for his success, particularly his foster father, W.C. Hall, who took Luis in after high school.

“My foster dad encouraged me to go after what I really wanted in life and made it financially possible to do so,” Luis added. “He has been my biggest champion and even wrote to donors to help me secure scholarships.”

In recognition of the great opportunity and care his foster father provided, Luis has made Hall his last name.

Luis hopes that his story will encourage and inspire others.

“Anything is possible if you embrace the opportunities and the struggles that come with pursuing what you truly desire,” Luis said. “UT Dallas has changed my life.”

After graduation, Luis began his new role at IBM as a Technical Sales Engineer.


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