HAVERHILL — Luis Robles, a recent graduate of Northern Essex Community College, dares to dream big.
For many years, he has aspired to become a scientist. Specifically, he wants to be a research chemist who makes discoveries that help people.
"I do aspire to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry," he said during a recent interview.
He's on track to achieve that goal. Robles received the Excellence Award for earning the highest grade point average among students majoring in applied science at Northern Essex. He is now participating in an internship with the Station1 Frontiers Fellowship.
Robles was among 23 students accepted into this intense program that combines study with laboratory work. He and three other Northern Essex graduates are Station1 interns. The others, he said, are from Texas, California, New York, Florida, Maryland and Puerto Rico.
During the next few weeks, he and other interns will be searching for less expensive ways of manufacturing medicines. They are based at the Riverwalk on Merrimack Street.
Robles' path has not been easy. Born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, he attended four different high schools. His grades were very good, but he said he missed out on scholarships because of not being in one place for very long.
After graduating from high school in New Jersey, he signed up to attend college, he said, but then he went to the Dominican Republic to live with his father. He obtained a job at a call center.
Then his father died. While working at the call center, Robles met his wife, Julissa. Her mother lived in Lawrence.
"That's how we ended up living in Lawrence," he said. Despite the upheaval in his life, Robles clung to his dream of becoming a scientist.
It began, he said, when he was a high school student. He was fascinated by a diagram showing the structure of the atom.
He realized that those tiny atoms are the "origin of materials."
"From there the interest grew," he said. "Everything is related to chemistry."
It would be nice if Robles, 27, could transfer to a four-year college or university after completing the Station1 internship. That is the usual plan for Northern Essex graduates.
That will not be the case for Robles, however. He and his wife have a son, Julian, 2.
"My plan is to work for two to three years," he said. He will most likely be working as a laboratory technician.
Once Julian starts kindergarten, he said, he will be ready to start working toward a bachelor's degree in clinical research or chemical engineering. The UMass Lowell is his first choice at this point.
Besides the other challenges Robles has had to face, he has a visual disability. He is blind in his left eye and his right eye has glaucoma.
This means it takes him longer to read the materials he must study than a person with normal sight.
Looking back on his time at Northern Essex, he said the school is helpful to students with disabilities. He gives high marks to Michael Cross, a chemistry professor who he said mixes science with humor.
Like many Northern Essex graduates, Robles has had to balance family responsibilities with academic demands. During his two-plus years at the college, he has worked a full-time job at a call center and maintained a full academic schedule.
More recently, he worked at an automotive center. Besides his own son, he has two stepsons.
Robles said the challenge of continuing his education while raising a family is difficult. But he says he can't quit.
"I want to be an example for my son," he explained. He admitted there have been times when he has thought about quitting his quest to become a scientist.
That's not an option, however, he said.
"I don't want to let my family down," he said. So he keeps forging ahead.