First-year student hopes to channel his comic heroes to build a better future
Eric Romero – the first student to apply to the university last fall – wants to turn "fiction into reality."
Eric Romero's origin story may not be the kind of tale told in comic books or blockbuster movies, but it still could be the beginning of something heroic. Romero started this semester as a first-year student at the University of Arizona, where he will study computer science with hopes of building a better future for his community.
A member of the largest incoming class in UArizona history, Romero is a lifelong Tucson resident. But his path to the university began on the streets of Queens – more precisely, the illustrated streets of Queens, as seen in an iconic superhero story.
"My brother introduced me to comic books when I was about 10 years old," Romero said. "He was obsessed with Spider-Man. As the years progressed, people would compare me to Peter Parker, which seemed strange to me."
Even as Romeo found academic success as a high school student at Desert View High School in Tucson, he wasn't fully clear on why people saw similarities between him and Spider-Man's alter-ego.
"Once I started getting more into the comic books, I realized Peter Parker was the average guy," Romero said. "He came from a low-income background but wants to help and do right by everyone. With great power comes great responsibility. For me, that's the motivation."
Romero found a passion for manufacturing ways to solve problems in both the physical and digital worlds while taking part in Desert View High School's i-STEM Academy. While he developed a talent for both machining and app design, Romero decided programming would be his path at the university.
"As much as I like creating stuff with metal – it's incredible – I believe I have more control over programming," Romero said. "It's everywhere. It's the future."
For inspiration for the programs he wants to create, Romero needs only to look as far as the superpowered technology used by his comic book heroes.
"I believe it's possible to turn this fiction into reality. I mean, not the dangerous ideas from comic books, but the technological advancements are possible," he said.
Romero will still be able to scratch his itch for metalwork, having begun a job at Tucson manufacturer AirConcepts, where his father works as a production supervisor. The company makes air distribution products including air nozzles and perforated grilles. He says working in manufacturing and computer science makes him better at both.
"In both, I like to think about perfecting the form rather than doing repetitions," he said. "In my manufacturing class projects, instead of making model after model, I tried to make each model as precise as I could. I look at my coding projects in the same way."
Romero's commitment to helping those around him started before he came to the University of Arizona. He served as a student ambassador in the College Knowing and Going program – a statewide initiative to help Arizona students from underserved communities prepare for life after high school. In his role, Romero helped his fellow students navigate the college application process, scholarship opportunities and more.
For his own path, Romero applied to the University of Arizona, which he says was always his first choice, with super speed. In fact, he was the first to submit an application last fall. Thanks to his high school academic success and the university's Scholarship Universe tool, Romero was able to qualify for significant financial support. As the first member of his family to live on-campus in college, he took part in the university's New Start program, which allowed him to take a class early and get a taste of the dorm experience.
"It gave me the vibe of what the next four years are going to look like," Romero said. "It makes transitioning into college life easier."
While the stakes and circumstances of his journey may not be quite as intense as those faced by comic book icons, Romero's ultimate goal remains in line with many of Earth's mightiest heroes.
"Whatever I can do to make things better for the future – that's what I want to do."
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