LAWRENCE — Joshua Maldonado doesn't have much. He's been living in a hotel for the last two years after his family was burned out of their house.
The teen rides a bicycle everywhere and has to do without such items as an iPod — devices most of his peers cannot live without.
But Maldonado has dreams of being an aeronautical engineer. Through perseverance and hard work, Maldonado has earned himself the top spot at Lawrence High School's Math, Science and Technology Academy and an early acceptance to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
"MIT is the best school in the country and that's where I always wanted to go," Maldonado said. "I want the best education possible, which is something my family always emphasized."
Maldonado, 18, found himself dreaming of flight as a youngster. His father, Robert, would take him to Castle Island in South Boston to watch airplanes flying in and out of Logan International Airport. As a result, he began building model airplanes.
A fire took his home on June 13, 2008. To keep looters away, the Maldonado family set up a tent next to the house, which Maldonado said taught him about living without much.
He said his life in Lawrence has helped fuel his desire to attend MIT and to pursue a doctorate in aeronautical engineering.
"For me, education is a step for having a better life in the future. It will prepare me to do everything I like," Maldonado said.
To achieve that goal, Maldonado has taken on intensive extracurricular activities. Every summer, Maldonado participates in academic enrichment programs at Merrimack College and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. He enrolled in MIT's Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery Academy, where he learned about mechanical, civil, aerospace, computer, electrical and synthetic biology engineering.
His work impressed the coordinator of the program.
"Josh is a true star in the program and has successfully demonstrated his leadership ability to everyone," said coordinator Julian Green.
Last summer, Maldonado was accepted into MIT's Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science program. The nationally recognized program runs for six weeks with an academic component stressing the importance of advanced technical degrees while students learn the necessary skills to succeed in science and engineering.
"I truly believe that students like Josh are a great representation of efficacy at its finest. He is such a hard worker and never gives up," Green said.
It's not all about the work. Maldonado likes camping, hiking and bike riding. He plays guitar and has more than 200 friends on Facebook. He listens to bachata and hip-hop. He's read all the "Harry Potter" books and enjoys Wizards and Dragons.
At Lawrence High, Maldonado took part in the Stand and Deliver program, where Raytheon employees tutored him for the MCAS exam. He also did an internship with the company in Andover.
A member of the National Honor Society, Maldonado also is a member of the Student Council and participated on the robotics team at Lawrence High School.
"He's a great young man, the best student," said Diane Cruz, Maldonado's principal at Lawrence High. "He has overcome a lot of adversities and has come up on top. He always gives back to the community and always puts others before himself."
Maldonado's family is rebuilding their home now. He credits his father and mother, Kathleen, with instilling in him a strong desire for education. He also has a brother William, who is a student at Bruce school, a sister Natashia, a sophomore at Lawrence High, and an older brother, Robert Jr., who is in the U.S. Army Reserve.
"It's rewarding to see when you accomplished something," Maldonado said. "I can't give up. When I fail, I get back up and I can be a better person than before. If I fail, I'm not just failing myself, (but) my family and all the kids that I've inspired."
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