“It was terrible. For me, my family, for everyone on the island. We didn’t have electricity for months and months and months.”

Rossana Berrios had just started her senior year in high school in September 2017 when Hurricane Maria hit her hometown of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The devastating category 5 storm caused billion of dollars in damage to the island and killed thousands. Berrios and her family were safe but roads were destroyed, supplies were limited, and without electricity, daily life was very difficult. It was clear to her that the entire infrastructure of her home island had crumbled. For Berrios, this realization set her on a path that brought her to where she is today: graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a bachelor’s degree in industrial and management engineering.

Berrios had always loved math and science. Both of her parents are electrical engineers, so she says STEM classes came naturally.

“Basically, when I was born, I knew I was going be an engineer,” Berrios said.

She chose Rensselaer because her mom earned her MBA here in 1994. While snow the first winter was tough, Berrios also struggled with feeling like she didn’t fit in.

“I had imposter syndrome,” Berrios said. “I didn’t know anyone. I was comparing myself to the other students and didn’t think I was succeeding in school. I felt like I didn’t belong.”

But Berrios gained confidence with every semester through support from family in Puerto Rico and a widening friend-group of a few friends. She also credits strong connections with faculty at the university.

“Rensselaer has incredibly reachable, approachable faculty,” Berrios said. “Their support and outreach gave me confirmation that I belonged here.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic sent all students to remote study, Berrios, her parents, and older brother were all at home in San Juan. Bored with nothing else to do, Berrios pushed and earned 19 credits that remote semester.

“It was obviously a terrible time for a lot of reasons, but the experience showed me that if I put work into it, I will be successful,” Berrios said.

In her junior year, Berrios was able to complete an in-person co-op internship at Anheuser-Busch, putting in long days identifying and solving challenges in the specialty drink division, getting a taste of the working world. And in her senior year, she was key to the successful relaunch of the Institute of Industrial Systems Engineering club at Rensselaer.

“Industrial engineering can be used in wide range of fields,” Berrios said. “It teaches you deep skills in problem solving and improving and enhancing an operation for a company to be more efficient and profitable. Having this club on campus is important to show students the versatility in this career.”

This summer, Berrios will return to Puerto Rico to work at Red Ventures, a large media company. Someday, she’d like to be part of a startup that has a direct impact on the Puerto Rican economy, perhaps in tourism.

“Tourism brings people to Puerto Rico and I think we should leverage that as the beautiful island with great potential that we are.”

She has a message to all the incoming freshmen who may be worried they’re not good enough for the rigorous work at Rensselaer: “Just believe in yourself. Work very hard and get all the support you need. You’ll be OK and you’ll truly get a lot out of your time here at Rensselaer.”

Berrios will be returning to Troy in fall 2022 to obtain her MBA at the Lally School of Management.