By: Grecia Santaella Méndez and Diego Delgado Tamariz
Those daily 30-minute walks to school became a particular adventure for six year-old Moisés Orengo Avilés, especially when it rained. Going to school was a privilege at that time, and the opportunity of having an education was not to be taken lightly. That’s why walking barefoot in the mud in order to preserve his shoes was not a problem for the boy, who was taught by his mother, from a very early age, that education was primordial.
The eleventh of the 13 children born of the Delfina Avilés Galarza and Diego Orengo Torres marriage lived in Algarrobos, an isolated and very humble neighborhood in Yauco, near the Luchetti Dam. Playing near the river and being forced to make his own toys as a kid was fundamental in the development of his creativity. “My childhood was very creative and imaginative,” recalled Dr. Orengo Avilés as he sat casually, , dressed in jeans and a short sleeve buttoned shirt, in his current home in Hormigueros.
Without any hint of hesitation, Orengo Avilés described high school as a fundamental period in his intellectual formation. “I felt very passionate about theater and directing plays was actually my first salaried job. It helped me a lot in overcoming my reservations and shyness as a teenager.”
He admits to discovering his true passion by mistake. He applied to college for the natural sciences bachelors’ degree program. “But the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, where I wanted to study, didn’t have the program at the time. So in an attempt to study in the UPRM, I chose physics as the road I wanted to pursue,” Orengo narrates while grinning and laughing lightly.
After completing his undergraduate degree at UPRM, the barefoot boy from the countryside of Yauco with little resources made his way into an Ivy League institution, Brown University in Providence, RI, for his doctoral studies.
While being aware of this academic achievement, questions about prejudice and discrimination towards him arose. “While admitting that discrimination is a serious matter, I never chose to focus on the possibility of being a target because of my origins. Prejudice was probably there in some occasions, but I never paid attention.” For Orengo, prejudice and discrimination could have never affected him.
Choosing to turn the cheek the other way to the possibility of being an outcast is an example of how Orengo chooses to focus his time and efforts in building positivism and not being bitter or bothered by negativism. That is probably why Dr. Moisés Orengo’s students at the UPRM describe him as a very dynamic and pro-student figure. “I tell my life story to my students in order to make a connection with them, to make them understand that professors were once in their shoes and that we’ve made a lot of sacrifices as well,” added Orengo while expressing his gratitude for his nomination to occupy the role of the next Chancellor of the next UPRM (also known as “Colegio”).
Having previously occupied positions such as Associate Director of the Physics Department, Director of the Professional Enrichment Center, and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UPRM, among others, Orengo has mixed feelings about this new challenge. In a recent interview by WOLE TV News, Dr. Moisés Orengo stated “With this nomination I feel very honored and at the same time, summoned to assume the great responsibility that comes with the leading position of a main person at the Colegio.”
Orengo Avilés emphasizes that if elected, he hopes to attend the need for unity, collaboration, commitment and inclusion of all members of the UPRM community, from the student body and faculty to administrative and staff members. He believes that the UPRM community is talented, creative and capable of even more innovation and optimization, and wishes that his spirit spreads to the UPRM community at large.
Although Dr. Moisés Orengo is an accomplished professional in the community, he is also known to be a compassionate and selfless being. He recalls Ariel Orengo, high school teacher and current physician, as an exemplary being that inspired this side of him. “He was my physics teacher in high school and little did we know that it wasn’t his field of study. We eventually found out that he would stay up all night reading and studying anything he could find, in order to be able to answer all of our class’ doubts.” He felt inspired by his sacrifice, his thirst for learning and his commitment.
Ariel Orengo’s sacrifice may have driven Moisés Orengo to collaborate with his community as well. Dr. Orengo Avilés is known for having established a tutoring program in his church for students from elementary school through college. When asked about which community sector he would like to extend his help to if given the chance, he did not hesitate to reply: “I would extend my help to the sectors with more economic needs. I come from a family that has had to overcome economic disadvantages and wasn’t paralyzed by that. I think people need that inspiration and to aspire to their highest goals.”
Moisés Orengo Avilés’ life is seen by his peers as an example of perseverance, focus and determination. Not only is he an accomplished lecturer, but he is also a disinterested and cherished community leader. Dr. Dinorah Hernández, neighbor of Moisés Orengo, assures that he possess all the moral characteristics of what should be a good neighbor. “He is very respectful, helpful and gentlemanlike, nice, humble and hardworking. He likes spending time with our community and is very well-versed in all topics; he exemplifies a great intellectual capacity.”