My Rollins Gateway: Connecting the Dots

August 08, 2019

By Luke Woodling ’17MBA

Lucas Hernandez ’13 is helping solve his hometown’s toughest challenges by supercharging local know-how with the technological might of one of the world’s largest companies.

Combating sea-level rise in the country’s second-most vulnerable city to coastal flooding. Building more equitable public transportation in the sixth-most densely populated city in the U.S. Miami is staring down some of the nation’s most daunting civic challenges, and it’s Lucas Hernandez ’13’s job to empower community leaders to find answers.

As Microsoft’s director of civic engagement in Miami, Hernandez is the techy connective tissue in the network of government and civic organizations crafting solutions to the city’s trickiest issues. On an average day, you’ll find Hernandez crisscrossing the city, harnessing the collective power of his community. One minute he’s on a conference call with the mayor’s chief of staff or the city’s chief technology officer. The next he’s helping lead a workshop at a Microsoft retail store or showing local art teachers how to incorporate computer science into their curricula.

“It’s a privilege to be in this position,” says Hernandez, who majored in international relations, “because my work is always driving toward community impact—whether that’s diversity in STEM, enhancing public education, or improving mobility in the city.”

It’s a demanding yet rewarding role for which Hernandez was uniquely prepared during his time at Rollins. From recognizing the changemaking potential of public policy to experiencing firsthand the power of grassroots community development, explore some of the important waypoints on Hernandez’s personal pathway through Rollins.

Lucas Hernandez collaborating with co-workers at Microsoft in Miami.
Photo by Scott Cook.

Future-Proof Foundation

Collaboration. Communication. Creative problem-solving. These are the essential ingredients to Hernandez’s success at Microsoft, but this 21st-century toolkit was developed not at one of the world’s largest companies but through Rollins’ innovative, interdisciplinary curriculum.

“In an increasingly automated world, soft skills like leadership, collaboration, communication, and teamwork are king. As a result, I think a liberal arts education is essential to preparing students to thrive in the world today and tomorrow.”

Lucas Hernandez hiking through the rainforest on a field study in Costa Rica.

Liberal Arts in Action

Hernandez’s trajectory was shaped most dramatically by Rollins’ Immersion program, which allows students to engage the world’s most pressing issues through short-term journeys of education, reflection, and action. After participating in his initial Immersion experience during his first year, Hernandez knew he’d found his future.

“That was the first meaningful leadership experience of my life and probably still the most important. You were empowered to do something about things that you care about on a personal level, and you’re helping build systems that have a much bigger impact than you ever could by yourself. It was a gateway experience to understanding and formalizing what I wanted to do.”

Lucas Hernandez with one of his mentors, social entrepreneurship professor Tonia Warnecke.

Mentorship, Mastered

Like all Rollins students, Hernandez was guided by a community of mentors. Meredith Hein, director of Rollins’ Center for Leadership & Community Engagement, convinced him to participate in that first career-defining Immersion. Classmate Raghabendra KC ’13 invited him on a field study to Nepal. And a collaborative research project with professor Tonia Warnecke ’99 not only led to his first professional publication but also helped Hernandez grasp the social impact of entrepreneurial action.

Lucas Hernandez on the busy city streets of Miami.
Photo by Scott Cook.

Rollins Ready

For Hernandez, his Rollins Gateway is a summation of each of his unique experiences inside and outside the classroom that allowed him to feel ownership and explore the edges of his creativity. “I traveled to five countries, explored dozens of communities across the U.S., and participated in a range of fellowships, which all helped illuminate a path that I still walk to this day. At each turn I had a community of support around me to foster a sense of adventure and curiosity. I learned about the person I was, the values I hold, and the impact I want to have on the world.”

A visual representation of a student's journey through Rollins Gateway, from study abroad experiences to original research opportunities.

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