A high school work-study program expanded Javier Alemán’s world. As a MITRE intern, he’s blazing a trail for others in his underserved community to follow.
MITRE routinely hires hundreds of interns each summer, but just a few dozen are in high school. Javier Alemán is one of those lucky few.
The rising senior attends Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Maryland. The Cristo Rey network operates Catholic schools in underserved communities. Students underwrite their tuition through weekly work-study jobs at area employers.
MITRE has been a supporter of the Cristo Rey program since 2009. The program helps prepare students like Alemán for college and a career. It also enables MITRE to expose more students from underrepresented communities to careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
In my neighborhood, you don’t hear about people my age working in these environments.
An Immigration Journey to MITRE
Alemán was born in the United States after his parents moved from El Salvador to Suitland, Maryland. To support the family, both his parents work multiple jobs. Alemán, the oldest of their four children, sometimes serves as their translator and often helps care for his siblings while they work.
Talk to him for even a moment and you’ll hear the pride in his background and the pressure he feels to succeed. “I have all these opportunities my parents didn’t have,” he says. “No one in my whole family, on either side, has ever gone to college. I want to be the first. I want to start that legacy in my family.”
Alemán was always a good student, but he struggled in the local public schools, where many of his classmates didn’t take education as seriously.
After Mass one Sunday, he saw a presentation by the Cristo Rey Network, and Alemán eagerly applied. He was accepted and thrived in the new environment. “For the first time, I was around people who were academically driven and interested in school,” he says. He loved sharing information about his work-study program and hearing other students do the same.
After working for the school during the pandemic, and at a hotel real-estate management firm during his sophomore year, Alemán asked for a job where he could develop skills in STEM. Cristo Rey connected him with MITRE.
Embracing a Culture Where Everyone Is Learning
Starting at MITRE “was definitely intimidating and overwhelming at first,” Alemán recalls. “I’m in this environment where everyone was double or triple my age, with all these advanced degrees. I thought I didn’t belong with all these smart people.”
It was his supervisor, Glenn Bell, a software engineer on the acquisition, strategy, and management team in MITRE Labs, who reassured him.
“He knew I didn’t know much about computer science, and so he took the time to be there and to help teach me,” Alemán says. “It’s one of the things I love about MITRE's culture. You’re not always on the same project year after year. Everyone is learning here, so everyone understands and is patient with me.”
That patience and dedication paid off. After the Cristo Rey school year ended, MITRE offered Alemán a full-time summer internship working with sponsors in the Department of Defense.
In his time here, Alemán has helped tackle real-world challenges like wireless communication and spectrum management, cloud computing, and command, control, and communications for the U.S. military.
This has sparked a passion for public service. “The work MITRE does, it actually has an impact on the world and the community,” Alemán says. “At school, I never would have thought about working for the government. But the fact that I could have some influence to help people? That sounds pretty cool.”
He’s already seeing a difference not just in himself but in his family and his community. “In my neighborhood, you don’t hear about people my age working in these environments,” he says. “Everyone asks me what an internship is and how I got set up with the cool job. They’re not aware of the things they can do or the positions that are available out in the world. It’s cool to be able to pass that on, to be that role model.”
As he heads into his senior year, Alemán’s thoughts focus on college and schools like Harvard, Stanford, or Georgia Tech—schools he once only dreamed of attending.
“I wish I had more people telling me it was possible to get out of where you came from, and to do big things,” he adds. “If I could be that influence for other people, that’s my fulfillment.”