Sep 14, 2020

Turning challenges into opportunities: Puerto Rico native and PPL employee inspires others on his road to success

LEAD is one of 15 employee-led business resource groups across PPL companies. LEAD, which stands for Latino Employee Alliance for Diversity, works to promote diversity in the workplace and communities and empower Latino employees through activities and initiatives that can help them grow personally and professionally. During Hispanic Heritage Month, LEAD will host inspirational speaker Javier Avila for an event titled, “The Trouble with My Name,” which explores the American Latino experience. Throughout the year, LEAD promotes cultural awareness through virtual events, such as Latin cooking classes and salsa dance lessons; provides professional development opportunities through the Leading your Career series; and engages with the community through enriching activities with Hispanic-centric nonprofit organizations. Enrique Rodriguez-Arce, a PPL engineer and member of LEAD, is sharing his story of turning challenges into opportunities on his road to success.

After more than two decades in the U.S., I look back and proudly remember how I have overcome many challenges and obstacles that have come my way.

I’m from the coastal tourist town of Isabela, located on the northwest side of Puerto Rico where my family still resides to this day. Spanish is my first language, and although English was always part of my education, back then it was not widely used in my daily life. Growing up, I never thought about how important the English language was until I went to college. With dedication and the desire to excel, I completed my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez Campus – and set my sights on a new adventure stateside.

In 1998, I moved to Troy, New York, to attend graduate school at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. This was the first time I spent a long time outside of Puerto Rico, and I missed my family and customs from back home. I didn’t have a cell phone – not everyone had a cell phone back then – and long distance collect calls to the island were expensive, so phone conversations with my immediate family were short and sporadic. The food was different, and believe me, I really missed the “arroz con habichuelas,” which means rice and beans, that were cooked at home. The language barrier was also a challenge. I could understand English a bit, but my accent was so strong that my classmates and professors had a little difficulty understanding what I wanted to say. In addition, I had to translate many words into Spanish that I did not understand from my textbooks and class materials, but thanks to my pocket Spanish/English dictionary, I was able to get by.

Despite all this, returning home was not an option. I had a clear objective, and these challenges were the motivation I needed to get ahead. I ended up enrolling in an intensive English language program, which helped me improve my conversational skills. I also took a partial teaching assistantship offered by Rensselaer, which allowed me to interact with undergraduate students enrolled in a laboratory introduction class to develop an embedded control system. As a teacher assistant, I provided instructional support to my students, reinforcing the technical concepts presented in class. This was an incredible and unforgettable experience. With this position, my determination and support from the Hispanic Scholarship fund, I completed the electric power engineering master’s program in December 1999.

That year, I learned about PPL in an on-campus job fair. I had a great conversation with the PPL representatives and shortly after was invited to an interview at PPL’s headquarters in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I was very impressed with the company’s values ​​and its commitment to providing excellent service to its customers.

PPL has been my home for almost 21 years now. During that time, I’ve had so many opportunities to grow professionally in different departments and was even able to use my native language to serve the company on a special project in South America. Today, I’m a supervising engineer in PPL Electric Utilities’ Transmission and Substations Standards group, and I hold a professional engineer license in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

But, it’s also the culture at PPL that makes this company feel more like a home than just a place to work. I’m able to celebrate my heritage, help others and continue to develop professionally. I’m very proud to be a member of various BRGs in addition to serving as the vice president of education of the PPL Power Talkers club (Toastmasters).

As a member of LEAD, I’m able to stay connected to my Hispanic roots, help others understand and appreciate my culture and serve my community. I have been a part of various activities that LEAD and other BRGs have organized, including the donating to the Boys & Girls Club of Allentown’s Adopt a Family Program and Operation Christmas Child, volunteering at the Sixth Street Shelter in Allentown and Habitat for Humanity of the Lehigh Valley, and attending LEAD’s signature event, the Hispanic Heritage Month luncheon.

As a Hispanic American, I am proud and grateful for all the past and present contributions of other Hispanics. I am inspired by their tenacity and desire to make positive changes and have learned that even with setbacks, success is possible. For example, Justice Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009; Dr. Antonia Novello is a Puerto Rican physician and public health administrator who was the first woman and first Hispanic to serve as surgeon general of the United States in the early 1990s; and I cannot forget Cesar Chavez, a union leader and civil rights activist who led a peaceful movement to have the rights of farm workers recognized in the 1960s. These and many others serve as inspirations to my generation and will continue to for generations to come.

I will close with some parting words of advice: Opportunities and obstacles will always present themselves in life. You must be persistent, be disciplined and never give up, and you will be successful.