Navy veteran charts his path to software engineering career
For Ronny Fray Regato, senior software engineering Major of North Port, the journey from high school to service in the United States Navy and enrollment at Florida Gulf Coast University was a modern example of “damn the torpedoes, full speed.”
In Fray’s case, torpedoes were of the metaphorical variety, in the form of real and perceived obstacles, as opposed to actual underwater explosives. But the first-generation student was no less determined to attack his goals with full sail.
He credits the Navy and the FGCUs Military and Veteran Success Office helping him plan his path to an internship at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and a career as a software engineer.
“Neither of my parents went to college, and I wasn’t sure about my potential for success in college,” said Fray, who enrolled in the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps in high school. . “What I was sure of was that the military offered discipline, the ability to travel the world, and real experience in a field or trade. As a first-generation Ecuadorian American, I also saw military service as a way to give back to the nation that adopted me.
His service in the Navy would have a profound impact on his eventual decision to enroll in the FGCU after achieving the highest score in his class during initial technical training. “This experience and this change of environment taught me that hard work and internal motivation can lead to excellence, something I didn’t realize in high school,” he said.
Fray served four years on active duty, three of which were deployed to Japan, including aboard the USS Chancellorsville with anti-submarine warfare duties. During this time he began working alongside military and civilian engineers.
“I was impressed with the level of knowledge and confidence of the engineers. I worked on computer systems and became fascinated with programming,” he said. “Encouraged by my success in the military and with the support of military officers on top of me, I decided to pursue a college education in software engineering.”
While on leave to visit family, he was encouraged by a friend to visit the FGCU. After a campus tour, Fray was sold, deciding to enroll and study software engineering after first completing his general requirements. He earned his associate’s degree at the State College of Florida while still on active duty.
Troy Bolivar, FGCU’s director of military and veterans success, helped smooth the transition to higher education. “Troy has been there for me and many other student veterans as a source of advice, guidance, and advocacy on veteran-related issues,” said Fray, president of the FGCU chapter of Veteran Students of America. “It was great working alongside a former student-veteran who followed the path I am on now and learning from them.”
The organizational skills Fray demonstrates as head of the veteran student chapter will stand him in good stead in his career, Bolivar said. “Ronny is a leader and he is not afraid of challenges. I’m so grateful to be in the position where I can work with leaders like Ronny. As a veteran myself, I know leaving the military is a huge transition, and student veterans often feel lost and alone. I love having the opportunity to show other veterans that they have a support system and then empower them to achieve their goals.
Over the summer, Fray began an internship at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, working on mission operations management software and systems. This fall, he’s working with a Florida-based company supporting the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ modernization efforts for a two-semester senior software engineering project.
“It was an amazing experience to bring together a team of peers to support a real software project,” he said. “The experience I gained at the Jet Propulsion Lab has been invaluable in my work so far on the senior project. I am grateful for the many opportunities I had at FGCU to apply the skills learned in the classroom to real-world projects with visible impacts.
After graduating next semester, Fray plans to become a software engineer at NASA or return to active duty as a naval officer in crypto warfare. “Both career paths have a strong sense of purpose attached to them and would be a great way to use the skills I learned through the software engineering program,” he said.
Fray called his time at the FGCU an invaluable experience. “I am convinced that I have chosen the right place at the right time to achieve my goal of becoming a software engineer one day. As a first-generation student, going to university has always seemed distant and uncertain to me. The also being a transitioning service member added to that uncertainty,” he said. “The reality was quite different.”