Wifredo Fernandez, or Wifi (pronounced wee-fee) as he is known, is guided by persuasive personalities and oblique connections.
Wilfredo Fernandez, 1L
As an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, the Miami native was poised for a career in finance but pivoted to education at the last minute, spending the next two years teaching five different grade levels in Spanish, social studies, and math at the Friendship Public Charter School. At the same time, he received his master’s in teaching from American University in Washington, D.C.
"Going into my senior year, I had the rare job offer lined up commodity trading sugar after graduation," he says, "It was 2008 and the country was in the middle of the financial crisis and that was certainly a key Then I had a change of heart after a life changing meeting with a Teach for America recruiter and signed up the next week."
Later, Fernandez was on track to accept a Fulbright, which would have taken him to teach in South Korea.
"At the same time, I was going through a social innovation program that Teach for America had started," he says. "They took 25 teachers through a five-month boot camp. The program took me out to the Stanford School of Design where it kind of rewired my brain."
The experience instead brought him back to his hometown, Miami.
Back in the 305, Fernandez teamed up with two of his high school classmates from Ransom-Everglades School to create the wildly successful The LAB Miami, one of Miami's first entrepreneurial co-spaces. Next came CREATE, Miami-Dade College's incubator and accelerator at the Idea Center on the downtown campus and FIU's StartUPFIU incubator at the Division of Innovation and Economic Development.
At Miami Law he is a Miami Scholar, and has also served on the boards of Miami Law's Center for Ethics & Public Service, and OurKids of Miami-Dade and Monroe, the group that teamed with Miami Law on First Star Academy, connecting and following eighth graders through graduation and empowering them with survivor tools when they age out of foster care.
So why after five years of helping develop Miami as a growth city is Fernandez going to law school?
"My work for the last years has been centered on the development of cities and the startup communities within that development," he says. "There is an entrepreneur renaissance movement worldwide. Through my work with various startups, I have gotten to travel to lots of cities, and lots are grappling with problems around growth. Ultimately, these challenges come back to policy and leadership around how cities develop.
“A key experience for me was being a part the inaugural cohort of the Young American Leaders Program at Harvard Business School in 2015,” Fernandez says. “Now going into its fourth year, it brings together 90 cross-sector civic leaders from Miami and eight other cities, including Nashville and Salt Lake City. The goal being to share and discuss solutions for tackling the challenging agendas we have across our cities: achieving shared prosperity, increasing healthcare access, facilitating immigration, building up our resiliency and revamping infrastructure. All of these hairy problems come back to effective policy and leadership. A law degree is a definite plus.
"Secondly, I always want to maintain a foot in the classroom. A J.D. will also allow me to teach at the university-level in a wide variety of capacities. Finally, my grandfather went to law school, twice. Once in Cuba and once here at the University of Miami. I figured that I should go at least once," the Miami Scholar says.
Between now and his 2020 graduation, Fernandez is staying busy. On September 13, Fernandez will moderate "The New Era of Artificial Intelligence: Robots, Jobs, the Economy and How Machine Intelligence Can Affect You." Erika Concetta Pagano, associate director of Miami Law’s LawWithoutWalls is on the panel. The event is presented by the MIT Enterprise Forum of South Florida, the volunteer non-profit organization whose mission is to provide educational programs and services that promote and strengthen innovation the intersection of business and technology in South Florida.
Where does the 30-year-old see himself in five years?
"I have plans, but plans always change," he says. "They always have."