It Starts with a Dream

Volunteer and Cal Poly SLO student Mayra Mejia leading Santa Maria High School students to registration
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Mayra Mejia leading Santa Maria High School students to registration. Photo by Melissa Nunez.

On Saturday January 11, 2014, Cal Poly MEXA, hosted its annual Xicano Youth Conference. Each year the conference welcomes first-generation underrepresented high school students, counselors and parents to spend the day at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, learn from workshops and interact with current first-generation college students.

“Often times these students don’t have a role model to follow and that might discourage them from considering a higher education as an option,” XYC Coordinator Jessica Ordonez said.

XYC Coordinators Jessica Ordonez and Diana Sandoval welcoming students
XYC Coordinators Jessica Ordonez and Diana Sandoval welcoming students. Photo by Melissa Nunez.

The workshops touch on topics that help the high school students learn of the different opportunities and possibilities available to them. First-generation students can see college as a stretch due to struggles in school and financial issues like Skyler Lopez did when he was a senior at Taft High School in Lincoln City, Oregon.

Students from high schools in Bakersfield, Santa Maria, Paso Robles and Ventura attended the conference.

The theme for this year’s conference was “We Have a Dream.” Students were able to write their goals or dreams on a whiteboard and take a picture with it.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Jose Navarro, an Assistant Professor in the English Department at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

“Dreams stay in the imagination if you don’t start to plan, when you start to plan, dreams turn into goals,” Navarro told students.  “Dreams require to imagine, to imagine potential.”

Cal Poly SLO Student Jose Antonio Martinez ready to guide students to a workshop. Photo by Melissa Nunez.
Cal Poly SLO Student Jose Antonio Martinez ready to guide students to a workshop. Photo by Melissa Nunez.

The students then attended three out of the nine workshops:

  • College Survival 101
  • Educational Opportunity Program 101
  • Financial Aid
  • You are the environment
  • Positive Discipline for Parents
  • Is college your next step?
  • Innovation
  • LEGO Team-Building
  • Personal Statement/Scholarship Essay Writing

Current first-generation Cal Poly SLO students also gave the students a guided tour of the campus.

Cal Poly SLO student Laura Hernandez giving students a tour of the campus. Photo by Melissa Nunez.
Cal Poly SLO student Laura Hernandez giving students a tour of the campus. Photo by Melissa Nunez.

Benito Salas is currently a senior at East Bakersfield High School and has just finished applying to colleges.

“I would like to get accepted to Fresno State or San Diego State because they have good Criminal Justice programs and that is what I plan on majoring in,” Salas said.

He would like to be part of the California Highway Patrol.

“I’ve been on the road with my dad, who’s a truck driver, I’ve seen how it was and it kind of interested me at first and the more I researched about it the more it hit me,” Salas said.

Sandra Garcia a student from Paso Robles High School already has in mind what she is

looking for in a college.

Paso Robles High School students Amy Romero and Sandra Garcia. Photo by Melissa Nunez.
Paso Robles High School students Amy Romero and Sandra Garcia. Photo by Melissa Nunez.

“I’m planning to be the first to graduate in my family and I want to attend a smaller college than Fresno State and stay close to my family. I like Cal Poly SLO and I would like to study something in agriculture,” Garcia said.

Being first-generation influences the goals of Esmeralda Cruz, a student from East Bakersfield High School.

“Being a first-generation inspires me even more and it’s a lot of pressure on me. I know that it will make my family proud. Also would make my mom extremely proud for me to go further in life and not let anything stop me from doing what I need to do to be successful. It also inspires me to be a good role model for my brother and my cousins that look up to me,” Cruz said.

Ruben Tellez, a student from East Bakersfield High School, hopes to attend Cal Poly SLO.  “On the Internet, I’ve researched Cal Poly and it’s a great school for me,” Tellez said. He would like to major in engineering and/or architecture.

“I think that education is the only way to get ahead in life,” Ordonez said. “By putting on these type of events, we hope to make higher education a more realistic dream for underrepresented students.”

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