By Adrienne Sylver
Cris Lugo understands the education gap caused by a lack of technology. Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in the Turks & Caicos Islands, there were no computers in his home.
Now he hopes to combine his experience as the first international student ever to be chosen president of the Student Government Association (SGA) ― and to sit on the Board of Trustees ― with his computer science major to solve a worldwide problem.
According to a 2020 report issued by UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union, two-thirds of the world’s school-age children have no internet connection at home. This digital divide, the report says, isolates children and makes them unable to compete in today’s modern economy.
“I loved computers and cell phones. My family, sadly, didn’t have the resources,” he says. “I had to go to a computer shop to work on my studies and assignments.”
When Lugo, 22, returned recently to the Dominican Republic, the absence of technology brought back memories of his own childhood. It also became the driving force behind his mission to help low-income and underserved communities gain access to computers and other technology.
Lugo, the first SGA president from the College of Engineering & Computing, obtained his AA degree in computer science at Turks & Caicos Islands Community College (TCI), where he was honored with the Outstanding Performance award. He was also the school’s SGA president.
As a British territory, Turks & Caicos Islands offers students the ability to further their education with scholarships to colleges in England (the option most students choose) or at a few locations in the U.S. Lugo chose FIU because of its reputation as an international and diverse university and its computer science curriculum. Being close to home and offering warm weather were a bonus.
At FIU, Lugo became involved in Upsilon Pi Epsilon (UPE), the largest student organization for technology at FIU. In addition, he became active in SGA, starting off serving on the Senate and becoming Senate floor leader. “I’ve always enjoyed speaking and getting involved in the community,” he says. “At TCI the student body was very small. At FIU, I am representing nearly 60,000 students. It’s a huge responsibility.
“Being president here at FIU was not my initial goal. This SGA has a lot of power to do good, has a lot of power to bring the voice of the students and to be heard by my administration, and a lot of people told me that I have the charisma and the passion to do it, so I did it,” Lugo added.
As President, Lugo wants to increase student engagement. To accomplish these, Lugo has three initiatives the wants to achieve. First, he wants to appoint a cabinet, judicial and elections board that is representative of the student body by reaching out to student organizations that are barely recognized. Second, he wants to collaborate with organizations such as BSU and PSU to ensure those student voices are heard. And finally, he wants to work closely with the legislative branch to ensure that legislation that is being put on the floor represents our student body.
Lugo believes that if the students feel their voices are being heard, there will be more student engagement rather than students who attend FIU. He also wants to increase advocacy for minority and international students.
“I want to find ways how we can get our different groups and student organizations to work together and integrate and it all starts with who is in the leadership position. Is the person who is in the decision-making position look like me? If this international student can do it, then I can do it. And that is why I decided to run for SGA President,” Lugo said.
Also on Lugo's agenda is FIU pride. “FIU is celebrating its 50th anniversary. I want to boost that FIU pride. Academics are important, but I want students to feel involved outside the classroom, too. I want them to feel that they are Panthers and to have that tailgate experience, to come to football games, to join organizations.”
He acknowledges that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on FIU and its students. “It was difficult to get to know people when we were remote,” he says. “It was hard to get into the FIU spirit.” Also on his presidential agenda is addressing the high cost of living in Miami, which has only worsened since the pandemic.
“Food and housing are very expensive. We are looking at everything from enabling student meal plans to be shared to creating partnerships with off-campus housing,” Lugo says. As a member of FIU’s Board of Trustees, Lugo also knows the importance of the ongoing search for a new university president and hopes that with the start of the new school year in the fall, a new president will be in place.
As for his academic pursuits, Lugo plans to stay at FIU after graduation and enter the master’s degree program in computer science with a minor in international relations. By combining his interests in software development and the intersection of technology and policy, he hopes to work on decreasing the digital divide.
“I am a first-generation college student. My mom used to bake cakes and sell them on the streets when my sister and I were little. I don’t remember that, but I do remember what it is like to face hardship. I use my story to encourage others,” Lugo says. He and his older sister were valedictorians of their high school classes and his sisters is on her way to becoming a CPA.
Lugo is a great example of how FIU students can take what they’ve learned at FIU and benefit others. “I am impressed with Cris’s leadership and wisdom,” says John L. Volakis, CEC dean and professor. “He is a wonderful role model and will go on to make a difference in the lives of others.”
When he’s not in the classroom, cheering on the Panthers football team or leading an SGA meeting, Lugo can be found hanging out with his friends, working out, and watching movies or NBA games.