A Queensborough Alum Marks the Tenth Anniversary of Haiti’s Earthquake with his Story of Survival and Triumph

Published: January 10, 2020

Evens Espérance was on his way home from school when the ground started shaking violently.

“At first I didn’t understand what was happening--houses were collapsing and huge clouds of dust rose from everywhere. I saw an overwhelming number of seriously injured people.”

Espérance (French for hope) recalled how the earthquake demolished his mother’s house in seconds, leaving him and his family—along with more than a million others, displaced and living in tents for months.

“There are no words to describe the terror and chaos. I lost dear friends but thank goodness my mom, dad, cousins, and aunts lived. The buildings that had not fallen were closed for months and many of us wandered around aimlessly for what seemed like a very long time.”

Three years later, as the slow path to recovery continued, Espérance and his mother decided to pursue a better life in the U.S. and subsequently obtained permanent residency.

“I will of course always be deeply grateful to have survived this trauma but I was very sad to leave behind my good friends; friends who were just as smart and capable as me but don’t have the opportunities that are available in the States.”

Espérance, who was 17 at the time, enrolled as a senior at Miami Norland Senior High School and graduated six months later with the intention of enrolling at Florida International University.

“I was accepted, went to orientation and registered for classes but after all that learned I was not eligible for financial aid. That was a deal breaker. I could not take on student loan debt.” Espérance’s cousin at LaGuardia Community College encouraged him to apply to CUNY schools. In January 2015 he enrolled at Queensborough Community College to study Engineering Science.

Espérance, now 23, switched to chemical engineering after he took Honors Chemistry 1 with Dr. Paris Svoronos; as well as Honors Chemistry General Chemistry II and Nano-science research under the guidance of Dr. Moni Chauhan.

“It was a perfect combination of interests. I wanted to discover technology solutions that will improve peoples’ lives. I was inspired to design and conduct experiments; develop my problem solving skills and grow as a scientist.”

Espérance has had remarkable success over the past several years. He co-authored a peer reviewed article along with Dr. Chauhan in the Journal of American Chemical Society (ACS) Omega* in 2018. She said, “To publish in the ACS Journal is extremely competitive and especially noteworthy in the community college setting.”

He published a peer reviewed article in the Journal of American Chemical Society Omega* in 2018. He presented his research findings at the 45th Mid-Atlantic Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society, Hershey, PA, June 4-6, 2017; 25th  Annual CSTEP Statewide Student Conference, Sagamore Resort on Lake George, Bolton Landing, NY , April 8th , 2017; The 65th Undergraduate Research Symposium of the American Chemical Society-NY Section, Fordham University, May 6th, 2017; and he won second-place in the Nano-chemistry division at the 11th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Biological & Chemical Sciences, William Patterson University, Wayne, NJ,  April 22nd, 2017.

All of Espérance’s mentors, including Dr. Carolyn King, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, inspired him to reach even higher goals.

In 2017 he was awarded the National Science Foundation-Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF- REU) paid summer internship program to conduct research at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I was pleased to work with Evens on his extensively, lengthy application for this summer internship,” said Dr. Svoronos, who taught Espérance in three chemistry courses and served as his program advisor during that period. “He was paid $5,000 over a ten week period, plus housing and transportation. This was an unusual opportunity for a community college student since juniors and seniors from senior colleges are preferred in the 5-10% selection of awardees among hundreds of applicants.”

“It’s not only what I received at Queensborough that was rewarding but also what I gave in return. I was a tutor in both the Math Learning Center and Chemistry Club.” Espérance also tutored his peers in the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP), headed by Marie-Francesca Berrouët who said, “Our mission is to help students find research and internship opportunities and professional development workshops.”

In spring 2017, Chauhan advised Espérance to apply to transfer to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, N.Y. near Albany for the Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering program.

Chauhan said, “He was hesitant, as the cost of attending a private engineering school was high. With my guidance, Evens did apply to RPI and received a scholarship of $63,985 per year to complete his degree, which covered his tuition and various other costs.”

Espérance completed his Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering from RPI in May 2019, taking more than 16 credits each semester. He now resides in Framingham (Boston) where he is employed as an Associate Scientist at Sanofi Genzyme Pharmaceuticals.

Even though more than 1600 miles stands between Boston and Haiti, Espérance remains close to his friends and family who still live there. He grew wistful thinking about his father who passed away in 2016 from prostate cancer.

“My dad told me I could do anything I set my mind to and was especially proud that I tutored students who needed my help.”

Espérance mused, “Queensborough helped me live the dreams my dad hoped would come true. Starting here was one of the best decisions of my life.” 

Chauhan added, “I am extremely proud of Evens. He began his educational journey with a low profile and was very shy in the beginning. However, he was always focused, hardworking, and persistent. He is an outstanding individual with a strong character, and all of these qualities have and will continue to make Evens successful in all his endeavors.” 

*Moni Chauhan, Anjali Gaba, Tao Hong, Evens Espérance, Qiaxian Johnson, Gurjeet Longia, and Bhanu P.S.Chauhan, “Convenient and Template-free Route to One-Pot Green Synthesis of Polyrhodanine Core-Shell Nanoparticles”, ACS Omega, 2018, 3(9), 10974-10979. (QCC students coauthors of the publication)




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