Bachelor’s degree caps a long, full decade for one determined engineer

Immigrant’s long journey ends in commencement walk Saturday.

LuisJoomlaBack in 2008, Luis Ivan Adan was, in most respects, a success story.

Born in Mexico, Adan came to America as a 15-year-old, and over the next few years, he learned English, became a United States citizen, graduated from high school and earned an associate degree.

By 2008, he was married and had started a career as a maintenance technician with Alabama Power.

“When you look at the story of a typical immigrant, you could say I was one of the ones who had ‘made it,’” Adan said. “I took a lot of pride in the fact that I had a good job that would allow me to provide for a family.”

In spite of what he had accomplished, Adan believed he could do more. His wife and his supervisors at work agreed, and in 2008, he was accepted as a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the School of Engineering. That started a long journey that will end this Saturday, April 27, when he receives his bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering.

Over the past 10 years, Adan has been continuously enrolled at UAB. During that time, he never took a semester off and never took an extended leave from work. Not in 2010 when his wife gave birth to their first child. Not in 2011 when Alabama Power teams were working around the clock to restore power to a tornado-ravaged state. And not in 2014 when his wife delivered their second child.

Through all those years and life events, Adan balanced a few engineering classes each semester with work and family responsibilities. “There were times when I almost threw in the towel,” Adan said. “There were nights when I was up all night with a baby, then worked a full day on no sleep. And I still had to go to class that evening and be in the lab on Saturday.

Despite the many demands on his time, Adan stuck with it. In a typical year, he would take two classes each spring and fall and one class in the summer.

“I was Ivan’s adviser when he first enrolled,” said Zoe Dwyer, Ph.D., UAB’s School of Engineering’s associate dean for Undergraduate Programs. “He would tell me about his job or show me pictures of his kids as they grew up. He could have quit engineering school at any time and would still have been living a full, successful life. When I saw his application for a degree this spring, not only was I proud of him, I was inspired. His level of commitment for 10-plus years has been extraordinary.”

Raised for Perseverance

Adan was raised in Iguala, Mexico, in the valleys midway between Mexico City and Acapulco. As the only child of a single mother, Adan credits his mother’s influence for his determination to succeed. “She raised me to believe that nothing was impossible,” he said.

It was in that spirit that his mother sent him to live with his aunt and uncle in Birmingham. “They had lived in the United States for 20-plus years at that time,” Adan said. “My mother believed I would have opportunities here that I would not have in Mexico, but it was very hard for me to see that when I came here as a 15-year-old who could not speak English.”

After a couple of difficult years of English-as-a-second-language courses at Erwin High School, Adan became fluent in the language. He passed his citizenship test in 1997, and took a job waiting tables to pay his tuition at Bessemer Tech.

In 2006, he landed a job at Alabama Power; but it wasn’t until he married his wife, Heather, that he started thinking there were bigger goals he should be striving toward.

“She was a student at UAB when we married, and she graduated in 2009,” Adan said. “She always believed that I could accomplish more. When my supervisor at work asked me where I wanted to be in 10 years, I started thinking about engineering, and Heather said she would be behind me 100 percent. Without her support, I would never have considered it.”

His wife gave him the support he needed at home, but Adan says there was no way the family could afford for him to become a full-time student at 26 years old. Luckily for him, his supervisors at Alabama Power shared his wife’s enthusiasm.

“In 13 years, I’ve had three different immediate supervisors,” he said. “Every one of them has been 100 percent supportive.”

Today, both Adan and his wife are employed by Alabama Power. He says his immediate plan is to stay in his current job; but with degree in hand, he hopes to move into an engineering role within the company.

Meanwhile, the couple stays busy with their 9-year-old daughter, Helen, and 4-year-old son, Landon. His mother still lives in Mexico, where she cares for her aging mother; but she visits twice a year to see her grandchildren and her son, the soon-to-be college graduate.

“It was difficult for her to send me away, but she believed she was sending me to a life where I would find opportunities that I would not have in Mexico,” Adan said. “Because of her sacrifice, I was able to live in a place where I can work for a great company like Alabama Power and earn a degree from a great university at UAB.”