In June 2017, Rod Lozano was overwhelmed with excitement waiting to walk onstage and receive his MIT diploma. He stood out from the undergraduates in line beside him, most in their early 20s—but he didn’t mind. Lozano was MIT’s oldest undergraduate student to finish his degree in the Class of 2017.
Originally from Texas and in the Class of 1992, Lozano left MIT without finishing his undergraduate degree in Course 2, mechanical engineering, and embarked on his professional career. Lozano worked in the technology and pharmaceutical industries, most recently managing IT for Vertex Pharmaceuticals —but going back was always in the back of his mind.
He stayed in the Boston area, and from time to time, he’d run into former associate dean in Student Support Services Arnold Henderson. “Every time I saw him, his first question would be: ‘Have you thought about coming back?’” he recalls. Lozano wouldn’t commit himself, but he remembers Henderson’s enthusiasm.
Finally, after completing a major systems project to help Vertex launch its first commercial drug, he found himself looking for a next step. Out of the blue, he saw Henderson and heard that same question. Lozano said he was interested and ready to return.
After applying to be readmitted, Lozano decided to switch to Course 15, management science with a concentration in finance. “The benefit of making these decisions as an adult meant I was clearer on what I wanted to do,” he says. Already living in Kendall Square, Lozano wanted to ensure he had time to devote himself fully to his studies, so he left his job.
Then, in the fall of 2015, he began as a full-time MIT undergraduate once more. “In some ways, it was completely different! The first time around, we had no personal laptops, no cell phones. Athena and email were cutting edge but a widely accessible internet did not exist,” he remembers. “But in other ways, it was completely the same—it’s still MIT. So that meant the same difficult problem sets and exams, all-nighters, and the same stress.”
Students in his Sloan classes were a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, including mid-career students in programs like the Sloan Fellows, so he saw other students that were his age. However, changes in MIT undergraduate degree requirements meant that he had to take biology (a General Institute Requirement) and communication requirement classes, which were more of an adjustment.
“It was obvious that students and even some of the professors were younger than me! But no one treated me differently. I felt incredibly accepted. I made lots of great friends, undergrads and grad students, from departments and programs across the Institute.”
Lozano was also thrilled to find the administrative resources as supportive as he’d hoped. By the time he reenrolled, Henderson had retired, but assistant director of Sloan Undergraduate Education Stephanie Karkut and associate dean and co-director of Student Support Services James Collins were just as supportive. Regular check-ins and suggestions about various support systems at MIT were very helpful to him.
Lozano dove in to the full experience. From his apartment, he could walk to class and experience campus life. He went to guest lectures and became involved in the entrepreneurial scene. He loved his classes and became friends with faculty and TAs. He stretched his time at MIT to four semesters to take more classes that interested him, like offerings at the Media Lab and in entrepreneurship, and finished with flying colors.
When graduation day finally arrived, Lozano says it was surreal, a moment nearly 30 years in the making. “I finally had this sense of accomplishment that wasn’t there before,” he says.
His 1992 fraternity brothers were also on campus for their reunion and joined him at a party to celebrate his accomplishment. “I felt such a difference—they’ve always been great friends, but now I felt like a peer,” he says.
Standing among his 2017 classmates and his 1992 classmates, Lozano felt a profound sense of gratitude for his multigenerational friends, as well as his wife Sara Bielanski, family, and friends who had supported him the entire time.
Now, he’s feeling just like a new graduate should: not entirely sure what he wants to do next professionally, and excited about potential options. He does know that he wants to continue being a part of the MIT community, helping students and fellow alumni.
“I want to continue to be a resource to others, as others were for me,” he says. Lozano encourages fellow MIT alums to reach out to him at email@example.com