Venezuela is presently in the grip of a heartbreaking humanitarian crisis amid the political turmoil that has gripped the country for over a decade. Severe shortages of food, medication, fuel and other essential items, on top of widespread unemployment have forced over five million Venezuelans to leave the country since 2015 to escape ongoing starvation and unrest. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has only amplified the crisis for a country in which there has been an 85% shortage of all medicines.
Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering undergraduate student Carlos Acosta immigrated to the USA with his family when he was just nine. Seeing his home country continue to go through so much devastation in recent years spurred him into action.
Since 2015, Acosta has been an active volunteer for All for Venezuela, a Southern California-based organization that offers support to alleviate the humanitarian crisis and raise awareness about the plight of Venezuelans.
“As a Venezuelan, I have always felt a sense of responsibility to give back to my community given the current political circumstances,” Acosta said. “Being in a position of privilege having moved to the United States at a young age, I try to do my best to support the Venezuelan people because we have all had to sacrifice our family, our home, our health, to some extent our traditions, and much more.”
Acosta said that he and his All for Venezuela colleagues gather a range of goods including food, medical supplies, clothing, and monetary donations, which go directly to Venezuelans in need. The teams then sort the donations, pack them for shipment and arrange them in their designated warehouse to be sent.
“Personally, I focus on the collection of donations at the end of a school year as people move out of their apartments,” Acosta said. “Currently, during the pandemic, we have been receiving donations, sorting them, and preparing them in boxes so they can be shipped. Additionally, in moments of crises, we also send donations to other places in grave need such as Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.”
Acosta is also the first member of his family to study for a bachelor’s degree, which has made him acutely aware of the needs of first-generation students, and all the more determined to support them. He works as a student leader within the First-Generation Student Leadership Program (FGSLP) at USC, where he mentors students and supports them on their academic journey.
“Alongside the other phenomenal first-gen student leaders, I act as an aid during orientation,” Acosta said. “We provide insight to the first-generation student experience at USC through panelist events, guide students through difficult times, provide resources, and host events for students to earn skills and meet other first-gens.”
Acosta is also Social Media and Communications Co-lead within the program, responsible for outreach to the community via social channels such as their @USC FirstGen Instagram.
“We make videos teaching students how to access USC resources, scholarship application deadlines and information, mentoring services, and we host takeovers to showcase our first-generation community, and much more,” Acosta said.
For Acosta, one of the most satisfying aspects of his involvement as a first generation mentor is the chance to support people in the same position he once was in–unable to turn to parents for support because they hadn’t gone through the college experience.
“As first-generation students, we have to walk the extra mile to just have access to resources,” Acosta said. “I feel proud to be part of a group that supports one another and that we help each other up to be as successful as possible.”
After Acosta’s first semester at USC, he was awarded a Norman Topping Student Aid Fund Scholarship, which he described as one of the biggest blessings of his academic career. This also prompted him to act as a mentor to new scholarship students, offering advice and support and information about accessing resources.
Acosta also participates in other student organizations, including QuEST, which supports LGBTQ+ engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), which advances Latinx participation in the industry. Acosta said a key highlight for him has been the opportunity to attend the SHPE National Convention where he took part in workshops and talks and networked with fellow students and companies. He also takes part in classes and community events as a Latino Alumni Association scholar.
“I have received the guidance of some of the most amazing mentors within the Latino Alumni Association that have supported me during my academic journey leading me to the position I am in today,” Acosta said.