Students at Miami Dade
Spotlight on Students

Making the Right Moves

When adult students wonder what types of opportunities are available at Miami Dade, it’s hard not to point to Alberto Hernandez. One day, the 40-year-old security guard was working part-time at a Latin Alberto Hernandeznightclub and studying English at Miami Dade. The next, he and fellow students were starting a college chess team and within short order were competing—and beating—students from all over the country. How is that possible? As Hernandez says, “It’s all about recognizing opportunities.”

When the Cuban-born Hernandez was at work, he and fellow Miami Dade student Rodelay Medina often passed the time, playing boardless chess and tracking their moves in their head. One day the duo decided to gather a group of Miami Dade students and enter the Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Tournament, which happened to be scheduled in Miami that year. The tournament draws college teams from all over the nation as well as some from Canada and South America. The problem was that Miami Dade didn’t have an official chess team. But that didn’t deter Hernandez and Medina. They paid their own entry fees, and systematically began to pick off one team after another, working their way through a number of big name universities, including Princeton and University of Chicago. The performance of the team qualified it to play in the Final Four of Collegiate Chess. For each of the next four years, Miami Dade’s new chess team qualified for t the Final Four, finishing third each time.  In 2004, Miami Dade was named Chess College of the Year by the U.S. Chess Federation.

Where did this powerhouse chess team come from? The answer is simple: chess-crazed Cuba. For various reasons Hernandez and many of his teammates had moved to Miami from the Cuban island.  Hernandez was a former Cuban junior national champion who taught chess before he left Cuba on a raft. In 2005, The Wall Street Journal wrote a front page article about the team, and featured Hernandez’s life story. During Hernandez’s journey to Miami, he was scooped up by the U.S. Coast Guard and taken to a refugee camp at the U.S. naval base on Guantanamo Bay. While he was there, he made his own chess sets by melting down plastic food-ration boxes and soda bottles. Ten months later, Hernandez entered the U.S.  A few years later, he enrolled at Miami Dade where he remains on the chess team and continues to work toward his goal of becoming a teacher and chess instructor within the school system.

Miami Dade College is an equal access/equal opportunity institution and does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, color, marital status, age, religion, national origin, disability, veteran's status, sexual orientation, or genetic information. Contact the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs/ADA Coordinator, at 305.237.2577 for information.