Six years ago, speaking little English, Wara moved to the U.S. to find employment, working as a babysitter, restaurant server and bartender. As soon as she became eligible to apply, Wara enrolled at PCCC and enrolled in ESL classes. 
May 21, 2019

Wara Laura Wants to Leave a Legacy to Her Field and to PCCC

When Wara Laura learned she would be a co-valedictorian at PCCC’s 47th Commencement evening ceremony, she felt affirmed. “I want to be the valedictorian,” she said. “I’ve worked so hard, and this is the recognition for it.”

While she admits to being nervous, Wara said she is working on her speech, and feels confident that “it will be good.”

Wara receives her associate’s degree in applied computer science with highest honors and a perfect 4.0 GPA. She intends to pursue at bachelor’s degree at either Stevens Institute of Technology or Rutgers-Newark. “They are both good schools for technology, but I haven’t made my decision yet,” she says.

Planning a career as a software engineer in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Wara is particularly interested in applying AI to medicine.  In fact, during her high schools day, Wara had considered becoming a doctor, but at the time, did not want to undergo the long training period required.

“Now, I’ve become interested in ways AI can help our whole world,” she says, “especially with repairing or preventing more harm to the environment.

“I want to do something important in my field,” said Wara, who hopes to someday see her name connected to a renowned accomplishment, particularly in the field of AI.

The top student in her high school class, Wara went on to attend Central University in the town of Cochabamba, but left after only one year. “My family couldn’t afford it anymore,” she said. “The universities in Bolivia are private, and there is no financial aid or other type of help.”

Six years ago, speaking little English, Wara moved to the U.S. to find employment, working first as a babysitter, then as a restaurant server and bartender. As soon as she became eligible to apply, Wara enrolled at PCCC and enrolled in ESL classes. 

She lives with her brother, Sergio Torrico, in Clifton. “He attended PCCC, too,” she said.  Though younger than Wara, Sergio had come to the U.S. earlier than she did, so he completed his education at PCCC sooner and is now attending NJIT.

“He is my inspiration,” says Wara. “He really pushed me. Whenever I asked him for help with my English lessons, he told me I should find the answers myself, and he would only help if it was a last resort.”

When she was ready for college-level classes, Wara gravitated to the STEM subjects.  “I was always good in math and liked chemistry and biology,” she said.  Writing, history, and other liberal arts courses were not her preference.
At first, Wara would take care of all her academic work for the day, then leave the campus to go to work. “I just wanted to be in and out,” she said.  “I didn’t get involved at all.”

But in her second year, Wara had a change of heart. She had been invited to join the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society and saw her fellow members socializing, collaborating on academic and community service projects, and having fun together. “I wanted to have that college experience too,” she said.

Grateful for the scholarship support that made it possible for her to work less outside of school and become more involved, Wara immersed herself in college life with the same intensity she applied to her studies.

“I joined the astronomy club, the science club, the B2B club,” she says. “I tried to do it all.”  She landed a work study job on campus and also tutored at the CIS department.

Wara dedicated much of her time to PTK “I really enjoyed the Honors-in-Action projects and working on the campaign for Marie Febrillet,” she said referring to a fellow Kappan’s successful run for the presidency of the PTK Middle States region.

“I love PCCC,” said Wara. “I don’t think there’s any other college like it.”  She is impressed with the diversity of the college. “I met people from all over the world here,” she says. “I’ve learned so much about them and their cultures, and I must have eaten food from every country on earth.”

Strong and determined, Wara talks about the discrimination women experience in STEM fields. “In many cases, men still outnumber women in most tech companies,” she said.  “Some companies won’t even hire women.”   Even in her PCCC classes, Wara notices there are usually more men than women.

This inspires her to aim even higher, so she can be a role model to other young women interested in STEM jobs. “I want them to know they can do this, too. I want to encourage them”

Grateful to PCCC for all that she has experienced here, Wara reveals another goal. “I  want to leave a legacy to PCCC,” she said. “Someday I would like to establish a STEM scholarship here.”

Watch Wara Laura’s Speech

Written and photographed by Linda Telesco