Joshua Encarnacion was turned down when he initially applied to the engineering school at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in 2010. Eventually, he got in.
Now, as a freshly minted graduate of the university, heading off to start his dream job at Google in California’s Silicon Valley, the 21-year-old from Springfield leaves a legacy at his alma mater: a scholarship for others following in his footsteps.
President of the 2014 class council, Encarnacion got the idea for the Dream Scholarship in one of his classes. He spearheaded fund-raisers that led to creating the $25,000 endowment for the scholarship, enlisting help from his five-member council.
“That was the minimum amount to create an endowment, and I wanted it to live forever,” Encarnacion said.
The Dream Scholarship is the largest class gift in UMass Dartmouth history, say university officials.
“In the 35 years I’ve worked in higher education, spanning six institutions including two prestigious private institutions, this is the first time I’ve ever seen this type of accomplishment, of this magnitude,” said David Milstone, associate vice chancellor at UMass Dartmouth. “The fact that they did so not for themselves, but for a future generation of UMass students is what made this so special.”
The first scholarship will be awarded next spring “to a UMass Dartmouth student who exemplifies the most school pride and spirit,” Encarnacion said.
Applicants can demonstrate their spirit through any means that moves them, including YouTube videos, Tweets, Facebook posts, poems, computer engineering programs, paintings, and architecture, he said.
“I just want to help other students who are excited, willing, and committed to carrying on the values that UMass has instilled in us,” said Encarnacion, who was inspired to create the scholarship during one of Milstone’s classes.
Encarnacion has leaped over a few hurdles to get where he is today.
He was born in New York City and grew up in Lawrence before moving to Springfield, where he attended Springfield Central High School and became captain of its football team.
One day, while playing volleyball in gym class, he felt his heart flutter. It later happened a few more times, including when he was playing football.
Encarnacion went to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, where he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, an irregular and often rapid heart rate that commonly hinders blood flow.
“They put me in a room with another 17-year-old with atrial fibrillation who was going blind from poor blood circulation, so, yeah, it was scary,” he said.
It was tough news to hear when doctors told Encarnacion he could never play football again. But he said that “being forced to let go of sports made me learn about myself: I found my role as a leader off the field.”
In place of football, he said, “my biggest thing nowadays is empowering others to find success.”
He faced another hurdle when he was turned down for admission to the UMass Dartmouth College of Engineering after high school.
But his application was transferred to an alternate admissions program called College Now, which specifically considers applicants from urban areas, low-income homes, and first-generation college families, and he was admitted.
“I was all three,” Encarnacion said.
He said he thrived at UMass, but by his sophomore year he wanted a change. He was apprehensive, however, about leaving engineering, which held the promise of a lucrative future.
“I had family and friends saying, ‘Stick it out; you’ll make a million dollars.’ And I said, ‘I don’t want to make a million dollars, if I’ll be miserable.’ ”
He found the inspiration to switch majors during his sophomore year when he took Milstone’s leadership theory class. “Dr. Milstone is my mentor for life,” Encarnacion said. “He encouraged me.”
Milstone calls his protégé “remarkable.”
“He thinks different,” he said. “He thinks bigger.”
Encarnacion earned his bachelor’s degree in human resource management with a minor in leadership and civic engagement.
For his campus leadership in a number of groups, Encarnacion was named one of the “29 Who Shine” by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education.
In the spirit of following his dream, Encarnacion said he turned down a job at a major financial company in Boston to go to Google, where he starts in a couple of weeks as a staffing services associate.
“When they told me I got the job, it was the best phone call of my entire life,” he said. “I was in my room screaming with my roommate. We were jumping up and down like we just won the lottery.”
Just before he graduated May 16 , Encarnacion and the class council members presented UMass Dartmouth chancellor Divina Grossman with a check for the $25,000.
“He came to our campus from a family of modest means and took advantage of every opportunity made available to him here,” Grossman said. “He matured into one of the best student leaders I have ever known.”