By Vaughn College   |   December 13, 2019

“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.


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.”


Motivated 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.


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.”


“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.”


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.