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Representando A Questa: Daniel Herrera

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Being raised in a community where your history connects to every part of your present, it is difficult to find the courage to leave. It is similarly difficult to forge a path and stay.

Questa del Rio News is committed to highlighting different members of our community, both those who have created their paths and planted their own roots in the community that raised them, and also those who have pursued lives outside of the community – through our Representando series. This series is dedicated to those who are Representando Questa in various facets of life.

For our September series, we interviewed Dr. Daniel Herrera. Daniel graduated from Questa Junior / Senior High School in 2009. Upon graduation, he moved to Albuquerque to attend the University of New Mexico, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. He went on to pursue his Ph.D in Electrical Engineering at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, which he completed in 2019. Currently, he lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Virginia.

“I was always good at math and figured that I wanted to do something related to electricity, since my dad worked as an electrician at the mine. Eventually, I became very curious about how light works, so I wanted to learn more about cool things like solar cells and lasers. This led to me pursuing an electrical engineering degree,” he says.

While being proficient in math and science was beneficial for Daniel, it was also a part of a big lesson he learned through his schooling, and that was to remain teachable. “I had a lot of pressure on me early on. I always thought I needed to have it all figured out, and that I couldn’t ever ask for help, but that’s not true. You must always remain teachable so you can find new and innovative ways of doing things,” he says.
During our interview, Daniel reminisced about how much he enjoys coming back to the place that raised him. “This place taught me so much, and I’d say it’s one of the biggest pieces of my identity. The people from Questa are so hardworking, and I think this really built up my work ethic and dedication to my education.”

While living in Virginia, Daniel is committed to maintaining his identity. “There aren’t too many Herreras on the other side of the country. Personally, I identify more with being New Mexican than I do American. I introduce myself to people as a New Mexican, I pronounce ‘Herrera’ with rolled r’s, and I am authentic with people. Whether it is in my laboratory or when I’m teaching a class, I try to educate people about who I am and where I am from. If I am not being my authentic self, I am not creating the type of impact that I should be.”

When asked what advice he would give to younger Questeños, he shared an experience that helped him change his perspective. “After I left Questa, I sometimes felt insecure because my peers from big cities had better access to resources like advanced classes and training. It made me believe that I needed to keep to myself and hide my weaknesses, but that didn’t help at all. I realized it’s okay to ask other people for help. It takes a village to grow and learn, and it’s important to realize you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room — rather, you should strive to surround yourself with people [who] know more, so that you never stop learning.”

Daniel also says success does not necessarily require a person to be strong in math or science. “A lot of people think it’s all about being smart, but that’s not it. It’s more about being stubborn. It’s about putting in the work and pushing forward, even when it means you have to make some sacrifices, or when it means you’re working until two in the morning. That stubbornness to learn and improve is what helps you push forward and achieve your dreams.”