This week, the Warrior Word sat down with Mr. Villatoro, a new engineering and chemistry teacher at the school. Read on to get to know him as he talks about his diverse educational background, hobbies, and goals.
Tziyona Gheblikian: Where were you born and raised?
Mr. Villatoro: I was born in Honduras, Central America. I was raised in Honduras until I was 17. Then, I came to the United States. I lived in New York and Philadelphia for a long time.
TG: What do you miss most about Honduras?
MV: I miss the warmth of the people, the culture, and the food, obviously. I miss my friends and family. I think those are the most important aspects about a person when it comes to the connection with your country and your motherland. But I am familiarized with the United States, a lot, and I feel that I am part of the U.S. because I’ve lived here for such a long time in cities like Philadelphia and New York. I lived mostly in the East Coast.
TG: At what point did you move to Florida?
MV: Well, I worked in Honduras for a long time after I graduated from Columbia University in New York. The thing is that there’s a time that defines and explains, maybe, what I’m doing here now, because I lived in New York for a long time studying at Columbia University. I had degrees in mathematics, physics, engineering, and business—both at undergraduate and graduate school. And then I went back to Honduras. I worked in Honduras in many different areas: in corporate finance, engineering. I also have a lot of experience in engineering from a power company. After, I worked in both engineering and business, because I have an MBA also. I even worked in politics a little bit, back in Honduras. I was married to a Cuban for a long time, in Honduras, and we decided to come to Miami. We decided to come to Miami, and then each one of us went on our own path, and I went to Sarasota. I lived in Sarasota for a while, while I was working for a newspaper there, and then I came back to Miami.
TG: What’s your favorite thing about Miami?
MV: I always liked Miami. I always liked Miami because since I lived in New York a long time ago, I always liked places with different people, and different cultures. I like diversity in culture and people; diversity in food, diversity in attitudes. I like what happens when you have so many people from different areas of the world. They are attracted to a city and what the city has to offer, and they adapt to those opportunities and challenges. That’s something that I really like. There’s a tremendous contrast, particularly in this country that I love and feel like I am a part of. There are particular challenges when it comes to urban settings, like Miami or New York, that I assume you know very well, compared to the Midwest, and compared to other areas of the country where you don’t have that much diversity. I like diversity, I like urban settings, I like urban challenges, because I like cities. But lately, urban challenges have become much more difficult, especially with what is happening right now with COVID. I think COVID has been a test for the cities, and many people have left the cities.
TG: I agree with you on the diversity. That is something I also really like about Miami. So how long have you been teaching for?
MV: That’s a good one. You know, the first time I had the opportunity to teach was when I was about your age, maybe. That’s a while ago. When I was graduating from high school, I participated in a literacy campaign. I was teaching how to read and write to adults who were illiterate. That was my first experience. I fell in love with teaching. Then, I went to engineering school. Actually, it was math first. Mathematics, and then engineering. First in Philadelphia, and then in New York. And I didn’t teach. I was teaching only my classmates. I had the opportunity to explain, or listen and learn from them. But when I graduated, and when I went back to my country and started working as an engineer at a power company, I started teaching also. I was doing it part time, we’re talking 1980s. I started teaching engineering; I was teaching one of the most difficult classes that I ever taught, which was called electromagnetism. That was about 40 years ago, and then I got a Fulbright scholarship, which is a very respectful scholarship here in the U.S., and it brought me back to the United States. I went back to Columbia University for a business degree. And when I went back to my country to work with the business area with a business degree, I stopped practicing engineering and went into finance and business. I was working with a large brewery over there, which is part of the largest brewery of the world. It’s a subsidiary in Honduras. It’s from Budweiser and Belgian consortium, they built together, and they are the largest brewery in the world right now. I was working with their subsidiary in Honduras for a while, and that was my experience in corporate finance and banking. I’ve done a little banking too, I’ve done a little politics, engineering, mathematics. But all the time, and I guess to answer your question, I have been a teacher. Non-stop. After I came back from the United States to Honduras, I started teaching, and then I came back to the United States with my Fulbright scholarship for graduate school. And when I came back to Honduras to work at the brewery, I was always a teacher. I have taught at the university level, graduate level, and undergraduate mainly. So I have been a teacher for undergraduate about 30 years, maybe two or three years at graduate level.
TG: That’s amazing! What are you teaching at this school?
MV: Engineering. I will be teaching chemistry, also. I really like chemistry, even though I am not a chemist, but I am an engineer. I think that’s going to be very interesting because it was one of my favorite subjects when I was in high school, actually. And when I started college, you had to take chemistry in college, and I actually did very well. Chemistry and thermodynamics, I remember that. But I went more into physics and mathematics, and then I went into electrical engineering when I was at the undergraduate level.
TG: What was your dream career as a child? Did you see yourself becoming a teacher?
MV: That’s a tough question. I don’t know if you’re going to like my answer. I wanted to be an astronaut. I think I went back into teaching because when I had those childhood dreams, I started going into mathematics and I wanted to be a scientist. And then you start learning about applied science, and you start learning about bridges and energy. You start learning about power, and all the different challenges that engineers have, so that’s why I went into more applied mathematics and I ended up in engineering. I do have a math degree, and I have an engineering degree. Electrical engineering. But remember that I started teaching when I was your age, and that really got me into teaching, so when I graduated from engineering and I went back to Honduras, I started teaching. I stopped teaching when I came back to the U.S. from graduate school, and when I finished my graduate school degree at Columbia University in New York, I came back to Honduras and I continued teaching. So I’ve done so many different things, but the one thing that I never stopped doing was teaching.
TG: What were your first impressions of the school?
MV: I love it because there are such nice students, first. Some are a little wild, obviously, because they are young, and they have a lot of energy. Some already call me Mr. G, which I find that funny. I think it is what I was hoping to find—very well-educated and nice students from their family backgrounds, with lots of goals and dreams, and with diversity. Diversity is something that I find very interesting. People that are used to urban settings, cities, are people who have a lot of tolerance, and a lot of diverse experiences. I love that. I like the school, I really do.
TG: What are some goals you hope to accomplish with your students by the end of the school year?
MV: I hope to get them very clear with the idea of what engineering is like—the challenges of engineers—and how important engineering is for life. They don’t all have to be engineers, and they don’t have to choose that path, obviously. If they do, I hope to motivate them to go into engineering. If they have other plans, which they might, I want to make sure they understand what engineering is for, and they have a respect for the career and understand how important engineers are in our society, no matter what you do in our society. At least my goal with the students is to achieve that. And I think that, even though I met them only twice, we are going in that direction. I hope I get them more involved, whether they want to be engineers or not. I hope that they get into the importance of what engineers do, and how important they are for our society, whether you are a teacher, social worker, chemist, or a politician, engineers are extremely important. In chemistry, the same. I want them to understand how important chemistry is, whether they want to be chemists or not, or whether they are going to be in the science field. What I’m interested in is for them to understand that this is not only about academia, but also about life.
TG: What are your hobbies?
MV: I like golf. I play golf. That’s one of my favorites. I play basketball. I like music: classical music, latin music also. I like art a lot. I like the study of not only the fine arts, like painting, but also music. Those are very important aspects of life, I think, that are part of the growth that you have with time—that you begin to admire aspects that are far away from your profession, but are a complement to what you do in a daily basis. Like when I was younger and more interested in being an astronaut, or when I wanted to be a mathematician or scientist, now I like things like politics and art. I like paintings, museums, music, and different expressions of life, which are a complement to what you learn before. And then you end up understanding what all these numbers are for, and how they are useful in real life, and how you end up giving importance to more social aspects and less quantitative aspects of life. You use quantitative aspects, like mathematics and engineering, as a way to get to the heart of the people—to the way of life of people, and how important engineering and mathematics are for life.
TG: What is your favorite food?
MV: A good steak is always nice. But Italian food, it’s good. I like Italian food, and a good steak is good.
TG: I agree. Now this is my last question: if you could use three words to describe yourself, what would they be?
MV: I have a lot of passion for teaching. I’m organized, and I am resilient.
Compiled By Tziyona Gheblikian (12th Grade)
Photo By: Yakira Guttenberg (10th Grade)