Raphael Banuelos’ Notre Dame story starts with a story about blueberries and ends, at least this chapter, with a fellowship acceptance with Venture for America , along with high hopes for a trip to New Zealand with ND Engineering in the future. None of this is a surprise to anyone who knows Rafa. He is forever seeking out and developing opportunities for himself and others. Before we say, good-bye this spring, we take a look back on four amazing years of Rafa Banuelos.
As a high school student, Rafa was never satisfied with the status quo. Growing up in Pine Top, Arizona, he found himself frustrated with deficits in the academic offerings provided to him. As a result, he partnered with the University of Arizona and started taking busloads of classmates for enrichment opportunities. The University of Arizona took note and hoped he would join them for college. Rafa, however, had also applied to Notre Dame, mostly based on its strong Catholic identity. Faith is incredible important to Rafa. When he found out he was accepted to Notre Dame but just missed an opportunity to join peers at a Spring Visitation Weekend for first generation college students he found the cheapest tickets he could, got on a plane for the first time, and brought his grandfather along to see the school. While on campus his grandfather was sitting on a bench waiting for Rafa to finish a meeting and happened to notice the plaque on the bench. It was dedicated to a couple that would eat blueberries in that same spot. As life would have it, Rafa learned that his grandfather picked blueberries not too far from Notre Dame years before Rafa ever came along. His grandfather took this as a sign, became a staunch ally of Rafa's plan to attend Notre Dame, and they returned home to convince his family he should go to Notre Dame. How lucky for us that his grandfather picked those blueberries so many years before.
Fast forward though his time at Notre Dame where the abundance of opportunities for Rafa were his for the taking. True to his nature, he jumped at many of these chances and consistently looked for ways to make a difference for his peers and our Notre Dame community but also his family back home. AnBryce’s Global Immersion trip to Ireland awoke a desire to travel globally. Since that time, he has been able to visit and work in Rome, the Galapagos Islands, and San Francisco (along with many other states). He joined the Society of Professional Engineers (SHPE) and grew membership exponentially. SHPE not only mentors students on campus, but also goes to conferences all over the US to introduce members to opportunities and networks. Rafa served as president for multiple years and is mentoring others into the role now. He is a much beloved member of Campus Ministry and a favorite “parent” for the Latino Family Retreat. He carved beautiful community spaces for himself and others but also found his niche professionally.
As a Mechanical Engineering major, Rafa originally looked at work related to his particular field. He spent two summers with the Salt River Project (Coronado Generating Station) in Arizona. And while he learned a lot, he could not shake the feeling that his family’s history of owning businesses was also in his blood. Pivoting in his junior year, he worked tirelessly to get a foot in the door with businesses who often liked him in interviews but then shared they, 'really needed to hire someone with X experience', normal for business/finance majors but not engineers. Undaunted, he met with anyone who would meet and talked to anyone who would talk. Last summer, he did a remote internship with FarmAField Labs--a US based agri-investment company. He enjoyed the work and pieces fell into place for him to consider a move into business and finance. When he learned about Venture for America, a two-year, mentorship-intensive fellowship program, he knew he had to apply. For a student who notes how behind the curve he felt coming into college, he was leaving college with a fellowship announcement with a semester to spare and looking forward to two years of new ideas, learning, and leadership possibilities.
Rafa embodies the flexibility and leadership of our Scholars and in typical fashion and we can't wait to see where he lands next!