As a student at Holland’s West Ottawa High School, David Perez took a relatively simple
stride to start a series of opportunities and experiences that started him toward
graduating from Ferris State University in Spring 2020. Perez sees himself well prepared
to begin his professional career with a major manufacturer.
“I participated in West Ottawa’s ‘Upward Bound’ program,” Perez said. “As prospective first-generation college students, we received a great deal of assistance to support the pursuit of higher education, which included acclimation experiences and guidance on securing financial assistance. It gave me important perspectives on what was possible and really helped me be ready for my next steps.”
A Holland native, Perez was accepted to Ferris and arrived in Big Rapids in Fall 2016, ready to begin the Construction Management program. He said that some of the most critical learning in his first year occurred outside the classroom.
“I had a conversation with my Economics professor, who told me his brother was a professional in construction, but his career ended during the Great Recession,” Perez said. “That made a significant impression on me, and I decided to change my major to Mechanical Engineering Technology.”
Perez also found acceptance and support from Ferris’ Hispanic/Latino Cultural Center and joined the first cohort of Promesa Scholars in Fall 2017.
“I came to Ferris with a high school friend; we had many of the same experiences when we were younger,” Perez said. “Sadly, he did not take advantage of the formative opportunities that I had and left the university after the first year. His situation had a big impact on me; it helped me to recognize those opportunities that would keep my focus on accomplishment and community. I am so thankful for the experiences being a scholar has brought me, and I am proud to become one of the first dozen graduates of this great program.”
Through the Hispanic/Latino Cultural Center, Perez also found an opportunity to gain experience in research activity and build his presentation skills.
“We were encouraged to create poster presentations, and examine issues within the Latino community,” Perez said. “In 2018, my partner and I studied the efforts made to retain Latina students at Ferris, with additional information on national initiatives. We considered a variety of factors, made a presentation on our findings at a conference held at Wayne State University, and received a scholarship from the CLS as the top prize in a judged competition.”
Perez said the collaborative program with WSU and the Center continued last year, with his presentation poster focused on the avocado trade, where Mexican farmers run significant risks participating in that industry.
“It has been a valuable and rewarding opportunity to be a part of this process,” he said. “The Hispanic/Latino Cultural Center holds a celebratory dinner after each competition, then receives our posters, to display them in the office.”
Perez entered the Mechanical Engineering Technology program, fully intending to become an active learner and participant in the programs available to him.
“I volunteered to join with other MET students in the ‘Adopt A Highway’ program,” he said. “That gave me a chance to meet my classmates and get to know them better.”
Mechanical Engineering Technology Professor Chuck Drake said that his first impression of Perez was a lasting one. They met at an event before Perez became a student in his classes.
“He is a very upbeat and pleasant young man, with a smile that showed he connected with people,” Drake said. “President Eisler came to the event. I encouraged David to go and introduce himself, which he did. To make that kind of impression is valuable and lasting, it speaks very well for David.”
Perez said that his Mechanical Engineering Technology curriculum has not always come easily to him. He does believe that his investment in learning has been rewarded.
“I have been so impressed with the hands-on, practical applications that are woven into our classwork,” Perez said. “The foundation in mathematical principles helps me to understand the necessary concepts, even when I had some feelings of self-doubt. I made a personal decision to take on each class, semester by semester, with confidence. My instructors are great about answering questions and offering assistance, which has made me feel victorious as I complete the requirements for my degree.”
The progress that Perez has made has not gone unnoticed.
“David is very attentive, can get along with everyone, and is punctual, which will serve him very well as a professional,” Drake said. “He can be counted on.”
Perez added that he was able to select elective classes that have broadened his learning in preparation for the start of his career.
“I did course work in Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning, along with a class in the Welding program,” Perez said. “I believe these experiences have given me some important exposure to other industries that might come into play in the future.”
Perez’s personal development while at Ferris has benefited himself and others, as David is a founding member of the Upsilon Epsilon chapter of Sigma Lambda Beta.
“We are the first Latino-based multicultural fraternity on campus,” Perez said. “I did not really know many people when I came up here, including those who looked like me. I felt that, as a first-generation student, that taking part would help me be confident to pursue growth opportunities and develop wider cultural considerations.”
Perez has held a variety of executive board and leadership positions each semester for Sigma Lambda Beta, including treasurer of their Community Service committee, and vice president of the chapter.
Summer 2019 presented Perez a pivotal opportunity, through an internship with Gentex in Zeeland. The maker of automotive mirrors, window units for aviation, fire protection equipment and lighting for the medical field had Perez working on the production floor of their plant.
“I had rotations in electrical engineering, quality engineering and production, but I was brought in as a manufacturing engineering intern,” Perez said. “I was focused on industrial engineering and continuous improvement on the plant floor.”
He was encouraged by the internship experience, both in daily work on the production floor and through his department’s weekly improvement meetings.
“It is a real shared learning opportunity,” Perez said. “If you have an idea and want to see it through, you’re given the opportunity to pursue and develop that concept.”
Perez added that he has a mixed sense of pride and conflict, as he concludes his service as president of the recently established United Greek Council.
“While Ferris has a Panhellenic Council, and has enjoyed the presence of historically black fraternities, this organization is geared to gather and represent the more multicultural organizations on campus,” Perez said. “It has been a great deal of work, but we are very proud to have reached our goals during this first year. By the same token, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken our group off-campus. We had programming to close out the Spring 2020 semester that could not be offered to the university community. We are still meeting virtually, working hard to keep a positive attitude and maintain our vision for the future.”
Finally, there is excitement for Perez, as he is weeks away from beginning his career with Gentex as a production support engineer.
“My role will be to expand on the day-to-day metrics of production on the plant floor,” he said. “Succeeding in continuous improvement initiatives will be the focus of my position, and I am very much looking forward to it.”
Drake said Perez has every reason to look at his achievement with pride as the soon-to-be graduate confidently moves to the corporate world.
“I am sure he will do well at Gentex,” Drake said. “His position puts him in direct contact with people, where can use his considerable abilities to get along with others to benefit Gentex, his associates and himself.”
Perez said that while he is making a significant mark for his family by graduating from Ferris, their story and connection with campus will continue.
“I am extremely happy with my education at Ferris, which is the result of hard work by my parents, Juan and Maria,” Perez said. “They have supported me through and through, which has taught me a lot. The youngest of my three brothers, Edgar, is ready to come to Ferris next fall. We are excited to continue our family story with the university, as he begins his learning, and I join my peers in the Alumni Association. I am so proud to be a Bulldog, and receiving this education was truly an honor.”