By Jonah Grinkewitz

When Jose Umana joined ODU’s chapter of La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc., he was the only member on campus. 

“I was a fraternity of one,” he said with a laugh. 

Still, the feeling of community he got from belonging to the wider organization made him feel at home.

“So, for the past few years I’ve been trying to grow our chapter,” he said. “My goal was to leave it in a position where it can flourish at ODU.” 

By the time he graduates this spring with a degree in computer engineering, Umana will have accomplished that goal, with five members at ODU. 

“Jose has provided a thread of consistency for his chapter and the community in the past few years,” said Jen Cohen, assistant director of student engagement and traditions at ODU. “As a student leader, he has used his connections and personality to help amplify the reach of both the organization and the Multicultural Greek Council community.”

It’s not the first time Umana has had to set out on his own. Originally from Manassas, he was the first in his family to leave home when he came to the University in 2019. His parents are from El Salvador and Honduras, and he said their work ethic pushed him to go to college and make a better life for himself. 

“I would see my mom and dad wake up really early in the morning for work, even when they were sick,” Umana said. “They had to do it to put food on the table and to give us a chance at better opportunities. To this day, they continue to amaze me with the work ethic they display, and it has undoubtedly shaped me into the individual I am today.”

When he was younger, he also spent many summers visiting family back in El Salvador and Honduras, giving him a bigger picture of the opportunities he had in front of him.  

“I’m so glad my parents gave me that experience because it changed my whole mindset. It made me work harder, because once I was over there, I realized the things I was fortunate to have in the United States and the sacrifices my parents had to make,” he said.

He also credits one of his high school friends and one of his teachers for pushing him to pursue higher education. 

“It’s all about one person believing in you, and from there, your confidence grows to chase your dream,” Umana said.

From an early age, he was always interested in taking stuff apart and seeing how it worked. Thankfully, his high school offered engineering courses outside the regular curriculum. 

“I was able to really find my niche in engineering,” he said. 

At ODU, internships helped him narrow his path. He worked with SimIS Inc., an information technology company started by ODU alum Johnny Garcia, as well as with Init, a transportation company in Chesapeake. 

“The internships I had were tailored for more typical engineering roles, and I wasn’t completely satisfied with that,” he said. “I went back to the drawing board and really thought about what made me pursue computer engineering, and that was the interaction between software and hardware.”

That led him to want to be an embedded-software engineer, where he would be doing low-level programming that requires knowledge of how hardware works. 

With help from ODU advisors, he made it his mission his senior year to tailor his resume to the position, and when he graduates this spring, he will go straight into a job as an embedded-software engineer for Morningstar Corp. in Maryland working on solar charge controllers. 

“Looking back, I’m glad everything went the way it did, and I wouldn’t change anything,” he said. 

There is another benefit to his next chapter – he’ll be close to family, so he won’t be doing it alone.