Everything’s ACES!

Scholarship honoring Albio Sires further bolsters Stevens program for underserved communities.

This fall, Stevens welcomed to campus a new cohort of undergraduate scholarship recipients in the ACES (Accessing Careers in Engineering and Science) program and, at a recent luncheon to thank him for his support, announced a scholarship honoring Albio Sires. Sires, a former congressman and the current mayor of West New York, New Jersey, has been a passionate advocate for the ACES program since its inception in 2017.

“When I first met then-Congressman Sires, it was clear that he cared deeply about education and the role education plays in creating life-changing opportunities for talented and hard-working students,” said Stevens President Nariman Farvardin. “So, when we discussed the Stevens ACES program, he pledged his unwavering support to help grow the program. Since then, as Congressman Sires, he has helped Stevens in numerous ways, including his instrumental support and advocacy, which led to a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand the program in New Jersey."

First-year students Jonathon Salmeron, Melissa Santiago, Andy Abreu, Allison Mendoza and Diego Veletanga pose in front of a blue wall. The first-year undergraduate ACES cohort includes, from left, Jonathon Salmeron, Allison Mendoza, Andy Abreu, Melissa Santiago and Diego Veletanga. Photo by Jeff VockStevens ACES partners with 18 high schools throughout New Jersey and New York, actively recruiting students during the early years of high school to apply for the ACES Pre-College Program. This initiative guarantees scholarship funding for accepted students, enabling them to enroll in Stevens Summer Pre-College Programs as well as year-round workshops, enrichment and mentorship opportunities at Stevens. The ACES Pre-College graduates and other first-year students who meet the ACES program’s qualifications will move through Stevens as a cohort as part of STEP (Stevens Technical Enrichment Program).

At the luncheon, Mayor Sires had the opportunity to meet and speak directly to the first-year ACES students in attendance: Andy Abreu, mechanical engineering; Allison Mendoza, accounting and analytics; Melissa Santiago, computer science; Diego Veletanga, civil engineering; and Jonathon Salmeron, chemical biology, the first recipient of The Albio B. Sires Scholarship, which provides four years of support.

“You’re going to graduate from a great institution with a great education, but don’t forget where you came from,” Sires told the students. “You have a wonderful culture behind you — be proud of who you are.”

Sires’ words proved especially meaningful for the students, most of who are first-generation college attendees.

“I was nervous about coming to Stevens as a Hispanic student, but Stevens is very inclusive. Through STEP, I’ve met other Hispanics and women and I feel like I belong here,” Santiago says.

Hermes Gonzalez-Bello ’89 M.S. ’95 also attended the event, connecting with the students through their shared STEP experience and recounting his own professional journey. This path took him from an engineering management trainee right out of college to his current role as a managing director in private equity.

“Everybody has a different path but the education you get at Stevens will prepare you to do many things,” he says. “The way you’re taught to think and process information requires discipline and that makes you, in turn, a disciplined professional. The world is yours to conquer.”

For these students, that opportunity only came with the ACES scholarship.

“I’m a first-generation college student, so I was on my own because my parents couldn’t really help me and figuring out financial aid was scary,” Mendoza says. “When I got the call that I got the scholarship, I cried because it meant I could live on campus and not have to worry about getting to class or being able to participate in clubs.”

More About Jonathon Salmeron and His ‘Surreal’ Opportunity

Jonathon Salmeron, the inaugural recipient of The Albio B. Sires Scholarship, was so careful about his decision to come to Stevens that he took a gap year.

“After high school, I felt I needed to explore my financial options for school. My family was struggling, so I took a job at Starbucks and became a supervisor. The job allowed me to help at home and save money for books and a laptop,” he says.

Salmeron also took that year to figure out what he wanted to study — music composition at Juilliard or pre-med at Stevens. “Stevens offered so many options and outcomes that I decided science was the better route for me,” he says. “There’s also a greater balance here, where I can focus on academics but still have time to be a part of clubs and find my communities.”

Looking ahead, Salmeron plans to get his master’s at Stevens and then pursue a medical degree in pediatrics. It’s a dream made possible by ACES. “There was always this fear: How will I pay for Stevens? Will I be judged for who I am?” he says. “But my acceptance letter introduced me to STEP, which has given me support and community, and this scholarship has given me and my family so much financial help. I’ve watched my parents work so hard for me to have this opportunity, so to be here is surreal.”