Red giant, exoplanet, and supernova might not be typical vocabulary for most college students, but for Harold Washington College student and future astrophysicist Juan Guerrero, these are just part of his every day.

As a child, Juan always dreamed of having a job where he could learn about outer space. As he got older, his dreams faded as he realized he didn’t know how to pursue a career in that field.

After graduating from high school in three years, Juan spent some time working in his family’s construction business before enrolling at Harold Washington College. He was already familiar with the campus and comfortable with the commute from his south side home because he had taken a dual enrollment class there as a high school student. One day, a classmate mentioned that he was in an astronomy course that Juan didn’t even know existed. After looking at the curriculum and materials, he was determined to enroll. After that, he was hooked – and he knew he would do whatever it took to pursue a career in astronomy.

As a student at HWC, Juan is taking advantage of resources like the Transfer Center and said, “I learned so much by going to the transfer workshops – I thought the world of academia was not for community college students. I was so wrong – there are so many opportunities out there when you attend a community college.”

One such opportunity is transfer scholarships, like the prestigious nation-wide Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship – and Juan is in the running to receive $40,000 per year to earn his bachelor’s degree.

He also spends time at the world-renowned Adler Planetarium, making the science of space accessible to everyone from preschoolers to senior citizens. As a volunteer lab assistant in the Space Visualization Lab, he gives informal presentations about the planets and space exploration, including topics like how the brightness of a star can tell you how much heat they give off and how far away they are.

Once he earns his Associate Degree in Natural Science in the summer of 2020, Juan plans to transfer to a four-year university, then eventually on to a Ph.D. He’d like to one day become a planetarium director, because he believes space is fascinating and everyone should get a chance to learn about it.

His advice to anyone who might think community college isn’t for them is “that community college allows you to explore who you are as a learner. I always thought you would just know what you wanted to do, then go do it. But when I spoke with my advisors, they helped me explore all my options and helped me figure out what my true goals were.”

With an ultimate goal of winning a Nobel Prize in Physics, his last bit of advice is aptly, “You can reach the sky – there is no limit to what you can do.”

Learn more about studying natural science at City Colleges of Chicago, as well as transfer agreements, here.

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