“Learn from your past and follow your dreams.” That is the sentiment that brought international student and freshman Alina Santander ’23 to Vaughn College this past September. At 20 years old, Santander is pursuing her dream in the field of mechatronic engineering with the hope of one day making a difference in solving the some of the world’s humanitarian and ecological issues.

Across the Americas

Born in Bolivia, South America, Santander grew up with a passion for science. In high school, she focused her studies around the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program and majored in physics before transferring to Vaughn this year. “I always knew I wanted to be an engineer,” Santander said, “although my first dream was to be an astrophysicist. It didn’t take long before I realized my life goal is to create solutions to help solve the world’s problems through technology.”

Preparing for her future

Alina Santander with her home country of Bolivia flagMotivated to pursue her dreams, Santander applied to summer programs in other countries. When she was just 15 years old, she left home for the first time to study at a summer space camp in Germany that participated in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Human Exploration Rover Challenge. The goal of this international challenge was to build a Rover and drive it on a road with obstacles that simulate extraterrestrial soil. She began competing in 2016 and said her team prepared for almost one year to participate in the challenge. They travelled with their Rover from Bolivia to Huntsville, Alabama for the competition which is where they won the title. “It was an experience and opportunity that changed my life,” said Santander. “I hope to bring this idea to Vaughn where we can form a new club, introduce students to the Rover Challenge and participate in this exciting experience.”

To further prepare for her future, Santander managed to learn German and English, adding to her native Spanish and Russian languages. Having the experience of studying abroad and speaking foreign languages made for a smooth and seamless transition to Vaughn. “Being away from my family helped me to mature and learn responsibility at an early age,” Santander said.

Discovering a home at Vaughn

With a strong foundation in physics and STEM under her belt, Santander knew she wanted to study engineering abroad but discovered the process for international students was long and tedious. In 2017, she decided to get an early start and located an agency that could assist and guide her through the process while she continued her studies in Bolivia. Two years later, the agency ultimately matched her with Vaughn. She moved to New York a few short months ago and, with confidence and excitement, began her first semester as a mechatronic engineering major. “Leaving home wasn’t easy, even though I’ve done it before,” said Santander. “I have an amazing family who supports me and my dreams. I wouldn’t be here today without them.”

First semester experience

“Amazing” is just one of the words Santander used to describe her first semester at Vaughn. “I couldn’t wait to jump right into my courses,” she said excitedly. “I chose mechatronic engineering for its unique curriculum. Combining the fields of mechanical, electrical and computer engineering is the perfect blend for a well-rounded degree. I believe it’s where our future is headed, and I’m grateful to Vaughn for accepting me into their program.”

When asked about life outside of the classroom, she said there’s so much to love about Vaughn. Santander loves the small college atmosphere where she’s been able to meet new friends and nurture a close relationship with her instructors. To expand her experience, Santander said she joined the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) clubs. She explains how her courses in Bolivia, combined with her current curriculum at Vaughn, are the perfect foundation for sharing experiences with club members. “I feel good here,” said Santander. “I found a new home at Vaughn and living on campus makes everything easier.”

Looking to the future

Santander is focused on someday using technology to benefit humanity and nature. “I want to take technology to a new level to show how new methods can be used to make our lives easier and better,” she explained. “I know Vaughn is the right place for me to develop my ability to reach my goal and make it happen. For that I am grateful.”

Learn more about earning a degree in mechatronic engineering from Vaughn College.


Inspiration can come from many places. Vaughn senior, Angela Wright ’20 didn’t have to look farther than her own father, Jeff, to spark her passion to become an aircraft mechanic or aircraft maintenance technician (AMT), which is also known as an airframe and powerplant (A&P) technician.

Father knows best

Angela and her father in restaurantGrowing up on Long Island in the charming waterfront village of Northport, Wright was introduced to aviation at an early age. Her father worked for British Airways and he would bring Angela along on the job during “take your child to work day” throughout her childhood. “I’m adopted,” Wright stated proudly. “I loved going to work with my dad and seeing firsthand how the aviation industry operated,” she said. “I knew early on that I wanted to be a part of the mechanical side of aviation.” Her father’s passion for mechanics spilled over on the weekends when he would work on his cars in the driveway. “I was by my father’s side throughout my childhood, learning all about car mechanics. He inspired me to learn more about the field.”

Taking the first step

In high school, Wright enrolled in two automobile mechanics courses. Her excellent grades and passion for the field caught the attention of one of her instructors who recommended Vaughn College’s Aviation Training Institute (ATI) as a possible career path after graduation. “Up until that time, I wasn’t sure which direction to take for college. My instructor was instrumental in setting me on the right course by recommending Vaughn,” Wright explained.

Vaughn opens the door to opportunity

In the fall of 2017, Wright enrolled in the Associate of Occupational Studies (AOS) program at Vaughn’s Aviation Training Institute. As a female, Wright said she is one of a growing number of women entering the field of airframe and powerplant technology. “It’s empowering to see more women entering a field that up until now was predominantly male,” she states. “We are leveling the playing field as more women are entering the industry. The job opportunities are there. It’s a great thing.”

Vaughn’s Aviation Training Institute making it happen

Working as an AMT comes with great responsibility. These specialized aircraft maintenance technicians work around the clock for the safety of travelers by ensuring every plane and train passes inspection before leaving for its destination. Wright explains how Vaughn’s ATI program is the perfect starting point where students can become a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-certified mechanic with an A&P rating to prepare for this in-demand, high-paying career of today. Did you know Boeing is forecasting the industry will need as many as 635,000 new aircraft maintenance technicians by 2036? And that’s on the aviation side alone.

Wright describes the ATI curriculum and her Vaughn professors as outstanding. She said the lectures and labs are the perfect balance to understanding the material and putting it into action. “I love my professors,” Wright said. “They are not only dedicated, but they go out of their way to ensure their students understand the material.” Living on campus has also been instrumental in her success at Vaughn. Wright explained how the convenience of being “close to home” plays a major role in staying focused and managing her time.

Looking to the future

Wright is on track to graduate May 2020 and plans on earning her A&P certificate over the summer. “I’m excited to start my career,” Wright said. “My parents have been extremely supportive in my career choice. My father and I share a special connection, a common thread. He’s a great man and I’ve learned so much from him over the years. I hope to make him proud.”

For college students, the end of the semester can bring on stress from final exams, research papers and projects. The days of cramming and burning the midnight oil are old news as today’s savvy students are upping their studying and working game by taking a new approach to making the mark and ending the semester on a high note. How are they doing it? And if you are a student, how can you learn this approach? It’s all about finding your individual groove along with implementing some tried and true methods.

Vaughn College has done the research for you. Think of this as our holiday gift to you. We have outlined 10 fun and strategic work and study tips to help lighten the mood so you can get the most out of your work or study time.

  1. Location, location, location—Switching up where you study or work is proving to be a productive way to force your brain to associate material with specific locations, which in turn strengthens your sense of memory. Try visiting familiar places, such as your favorite coffee shop. You’ll be surprised how it can help you focus while keeping things fresh in your head. Plus, drinking a cup of coffee or tea can help keep you alert.
  2. Get moving—Did you know walking and keeping your body physically active can increase your brain’s processing speed and improve cognitive function? It’s true and so easy to do. Take a break and go for a walk – when you come back, you’ll have a renewed sense of motivation and refreshed perspective, which is especially helpful for writing research papers or doing project work.
  3. Tune in—Research reveals studying to music is a great stress reliever. We all have our favorite tunes, but classical music tops the list as the best for relieving anxiety and stress. Check out our blog―Studying to Music Can Put Your Brain in the Right Frame of Mind―for more of an in-depth explanation.
  4. Chew on this—You may get a green light from your dentist with the news that chewing gum or snacking on crunchy foods stimulates your mind and keeps you focused. Plus, it gives your brain a boost when it needs it most.
  5. Work in color—Using different colored index cards, sticky notes and even ink when taking notes is a great way to help with your visual memory and can be a game-changer to studying effectively. It not only helps with categorizing information but makes studying more visually stimulating. Also, ditch the highlighter if you’re using one. It can have an adverse effect. Simply highlighting information in a textbook or in notes is passive – it doesn’t require active understanding or output. Taking notes or making flash cards is a far more effective way to boost retention and recall.
  6. Story time—Some information can be overwhelming to remember. Try turning the details into either a funny story or something that you can relate to. It’s a fun way to recall the information and is a great stress reliever, too. You might even discover the writer in you!
  7. Distracted? There’s an app for that—We all do it. Checking social media pages and emails can be a huge distraction when you need to focus. Did you know there’s an app for that? It’s called FocusMe. It’s a great tool to help you unplug and keep you focused when you need to be.
  8. Bedtime brain boost—You may be sleepy, but did you know studying before bedtime is one of the best ways to increase retention? Here’s how. While you’re sleeping, your brain strengthens new memories, thus allowing you to remember what you read before falling asleep. (Just remember to keep your books and notes out of your bed. You need a good night’s sleep.)
  9. Try spaced repetition—This new learning technique is all about breaking down information into smaller more digestible sections and then reviewing them consistently over time. For example, instead of trying to memorize large scale blocks of information, you can learn smaller sections every day. The key is to review each section before starting a new one.
  10. Break time—Give yourself a break—lots of them. Long cramming sessions can leave you feeling overwhelmed and diminishes retention. Instead, schedule shorter sessions and take breaks in between. You’ll feel recharged and ready to focus.

Other helpful study tips:

  • Make a study and work schedule
  • Declutter your space
  • Quiz yourself on material
  • Recopy your notes by hand instead of typing them
  • Read information out loud
  • Create an outline for a research paper (before you start writing)
  • Conduct research in a timely manner
  • Try mediation or yoga
  • Treat yourself to a holiday cookie or your favorite snack

When all is said and done, just remember your grades do not define your worth. Just do your best. Your mental health and well-being are what truly matter.