Having grown up in the Dominican Republic, Charlie Minaya ran into various culture shocks when he matriculated at Wesleyan University. “Coming from the Dominican Republic, I was just used to seeing brown people like myself. I wasn’t used to seeing any other culture. So once I got here I was surprised. I was like ‘Oh my god, so many different people, so many different cultures, so many different backgrounds.’” On the one hand, he saw this as a wonderful experience, learning from the diversity. But on the other, he felt more alone as he saw fewer people with his shared experience. “I thought since it’s Connecticut, and Connecticut and the whole Northeast has a large Hispanic population, I expected to see more of myself here. But that wasn’t really the case.”
At Wesleyan, Charlie quickly found himself one of only a few people of color in his classes. “When I got here, I took Intro to Programming, there were only 2 PoC [people of color] in my whole classroom of 25. So I was a bit intimidated.” Adding to his intimidation was his fear that he was lagging behind the rest of his classmates. “I’m from the Dominican Republic, and the STEM over there isn’t the best. So coming from there to the States and being so STEM-wise, so much math, so much technology, I wasn’t used to that. It was really harsh on me.” Comparing himself with his classmates didn’t help. “So as soon as I got to Wesleyan, I always felt like I was three steps behind everybody because they already had some prior experience with it. And that really affected my mind. I thought I was smart, and then every single day I thought I was dumb, I thought I couldn’t do it, I thought I wasn’t understanding it and maybe the major wasn’t for me.” Despite his misgivings, Charlie persevered and stuck with it. “I try not to give up. Once I start I have to finish.”
Charlie had joined ColorStack early in his second semester sophomore year but didn’t begin to get involved in earnest until after struggling in one of his computer science classes. The Slack community was an immediate source of comfort and confidence. “Just reading the introductions page on Slack, I saw that I’m not the only one that’s struggling. Obviously some struggle more than others, some are more advanced than others, but at the end of the day, I see that I’m not alone. I’m not the only one that’s going through this journey of not understanding or feeling underrepresented.” Finding this community and seeing that others were going through the same difficulties gave Charlie a second wind and an increased sense of confidence in himself.
This confidence provided by ColorStack community helped him in many ways, Charlie says. But foremost in his mind was how this fed him in his hunt for internships. His sophomore year, Charlie applied to around 60 internships by his estimation and didn’t receive a single offer. “This year, if I could estimate it, I applied to roughly 160 internships. I got ghosted by 100 of them because I haven’t heard back,” he laughs, “but that’s normal.” In addition to not hearing back, he received a few rejection letters and 7 coding challenge invites. Despite these apparent setbacks, Charlie saw the silver lining. “But I was still happy that looking back at sophomore me I just got ghosted and rejected; junior me at least now gets that coding challenge. Who knows if senior me is gonna get that interview right away, my first one that says ‘I got it?’ It makes me happy that I can see my progression from sophomore year to junior year.”
In honesty, Charlie is being humble. He did, in fact, find a summer internship with PNC Bank. He attributes his success in this process to the preparation and tools he received from ColorStack, in addition to his hard-won confidence. “I just put everything that I learned into it, and I got it. So I can’t thank ColorSack enough for that one.” Having this internship in hand, Charlie is excited for what the future has in store and is focused on being the best he can be while taking his hard-won lessons with him. “My advice, to myself or to anyone else that’s in a similar position, is don’t give up, don’t feel left out. Even if you might not have a community that you’re in, have in mind that you are your own community. Be your own support system if nobody else can be there. Don’t ever ask for less, always try your best.”