Inspired by support he received, alumnus pays it forward

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Enrique Perez is walking proof of the transformative power of education. Starting off life in a low-income community, Perez, now with three degrees to his name, plays an important role in the operations of ExxonMobil, the world's largest publicly traded international oil and natural gas company.

Enrique Perez - Why I Give Back

Penn State geosciences alumnus Enrique Perez received tremendous financial support and advice throughout his life, which paved the way for career success. Now, he's giving back in many ways to provide similar opportunities to other students. 

College of Earth and Mineral Sciences

Perez credits part of his success to the fact that he connected with key people who provided direction throughout his academic and career path. And it all started with his parents.

Though they did not graduate from high school or college, Perez's parents, who own a small lawn service company, always stressed the value of education.

"Even before I started formal education, my dad was teaching me math, so once I actually started school, I was way ahead of everybody else," said Perez. "Even though they (my parents) didn't know firsthand what it was like to go through the educational system, they knew the value of education and they knew this was my way to have a better life."

A native of Washington, Georgia, Perez got advice from high school teachers to consider attending Fort Valley State University, a historically black college in central Georgia. Perez did, and also applied to be part of the Cooperative Developmental Energy Program (CDEP), a partnership between Fort Valley State University and several other U.S. universities, including Penn State. CDEP provides a way for students to get two degrees in an accelerated timeframe; Perez pursued a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Fort Valley State University before transferring to Penn State for his second degree.

Perez initially had an interest in petroleum engineering for his second degree, but he found he had a passion for geosciences while taking an introductory course in the subject during his sophomore year.

"Geosciences made sense to me and I could visualize the problems we were trying to solve," he said. "Having the math background and applying that to geosciences came naturally to me, and I enjoyed it."

In his classes, Perez ventured out on field excursions to study various aspects of the Earth's development and history. He traveled across the country with the annual Field Camp geosciences course. As an M.S. student studying with faculty adviser Demian Saffer, professor of geosciences, Perez gained a wealth of laboratory experience while investigating strain occurring near tectonic plate boundaries.

"That education allowed me to get to where I am today," he said.

Stationed in Houston, Perez now is a geoscientist with ExxonMobil, where he helps identify and assess the viability of drilling operations. It's a complex task that requires a thorough understanding of how the Earth changes over thousands of years, and whether, as a result of these changes, there are the right conditions for oil to form deep underground in a given location.

A lifetime of mentoring

Perez said that throughout his academic journey, he received support and guidance from many mentors. Even today, Perez said he relies on mentors to help him advance his skills.

"Mentors provide me with positive feedback and let me know areas where I can improve," he said.

Seeing the value in mentoring, Perez has dedicated much of his time to giving back to many communities.

"ExxonMobil really encourages us to be proactive and be part of the community, and they provide a lot of opportunities. For example, we have opportunities to help rebuild homes and help at high schools and participate in other initiatives, such as the United Way," he said.

The company encourages its employees to stay connected with their alma maters, which Perez has done, in part, through serving on the executive board of the Graduates of Earth and Mineral Sciences, or GEMS, alumni society. He has returned to campus to discuss his experiences with prospective students at the college's signature open house, the Earth and Mineral Sciences Exposition (EMEX). During the development of the GEMS board's student-alumni mentoring program, which launched in the fall 2017 semester, Perez helped identify underrepresented alumni to serve as mentors. Perez now provides one-on-one mentoring through the program.

"The GEMS board provided me an avenue where I can come and give back to the college that set me up for success in my life," he says.

Giving Tuesday: a new level of giving back

In November 2017, Perez is taking his giving to a new level by utilizing ExxonMobil's 3-to-1 donation match program for employees. Through this program, Perez is donating $5,000 to the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences for the Millennium Scholars program as a challenge match for Giving Tuesday, Nov. 28. If Perez's match is met by donors, that will fund one Millennium Scholar in EMS for the next academic year.

The Millennium Scholars program provides rigorous academic and financial support to undergraduate students who plan to pursue a doctorate and have committed to increasing diversity throughout their careers. Learning in cohorts, Millennium Scholars build fundamental skills and professional connections that can help them advance their academic careers.

"Giving Tuesday is just another avenue where I can give back to the University and to the college and to the individuals who are on the same path that I came through," he said. "Having that financial support goes a long way when you're just trying to make ends meet. I'm glad I have the opportunity to help."

Last Updated November 14, 2017