Rowan University at Camden
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Five years ago, Keicha Muriel only knew three words of English: "how," "are" and "you." Now she is fluent in the language and will graduate in May from Rowan University with a bachelor's degree in civil and environmental engineering.
Muriel, 21, moved from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to South Jersey at age 16. Soon after her arrival, she enrolled in Collingswood High School, where she attended English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Although she knew very little English at the time and had to adjust to the culture shock, she applied herself and learned the language.
"It was very hard in high school," said Muriel. "I remember I would take an hour to read one paragraph in my history book."
With the support of her ESL coach, Jacqueline McCafferty from Rowan University's Camden Campus, Muriel advanced through the ESL program quickly.
"I like challenges," Muriel stated. "I forced myself to hear the language and pick it up."
After Muriel graduated high school, she applied and was accepted to Rowan University through the Equal Opportunity Fund (EOF), a program that helps students who otherwise might not be able to attend college. She attended Rowan's Camden campus, but eventually transferred to its main campus so she could study engineering, a major she felt encompassed all of her interests, including math, art and science.
In the past three years, Muriel has garnered numerous awards, including the American Society of Civil Engineers-South Jersey Branch Outstanding Student scholarship, the Philadelphia Engineers Foundation Lewis A. Cascese scholarship, the Brown and Caldwell Minority scholarship, the New Jersey American Water Works Association Drinking Water Careers scholarship and the Lockheed Martin scholarship. This year, Muriel was recognized as the 2009 Outstanding Camden Campus EOF Student, which acknowledged her advancement as an EOF student at Rowan's Camden Campus and her academic achievement.
Muriel is the first member of her family to learn English and to go to college. She had to work a part-time job to help pay for school and also help her parents. Among her many activities, she is a member of Rowan's Society of Women Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society. She is also an undergraduate research assistant and the current president of Rowan's Engineers Without Borders TM (EWB), a program that helps underprivileged communities in the U.S. and abroad create and maintain sustainable systems such as those for water purification and energy production.
Muriel's ability to speak Spanish gave her the chance to travel to El Salvador with the EWB program and help many people. Her experience showed her needs in other countries, which sometimes lack the simplest commodities, like running water.
"I realized how much we complain in U.S., and this increased my motivation to study engineering and use what I know to help others in my life," Muriel stated. "I'm not going to stop here."
After graduation, Muriel will attend the University of Delaware to earn her master's degree in structural and geotechnical engineering. She also was offered a job at Pepco Holdings Inc., for which she interned, working in the Environment Department and the Transmission and Civil Engineering Department. She also plans to marry in June.
"I feel very blessed with the opportunity to go to school and make something of myself," Muriel said. "I'm the first in my family, and I did it."
Muriel added, "I want to motivate Hispanics. I want to make a change with whatever I research. I tell everyone to go to college to prepare themselves."
Muriel is a 2005 graduate of Collingswood High School. She currently resides in Camden with her parents, Lucesita Garcia Quiñones and Miguel Muriel Garcia.