Hasta La VISTA: VISTA to Doctoral Student

 IMG_1624Written by Noe Mora, CSU STEM VISTA 2014-15 Cal Poly Pomona Maximizing Engineering Potential Program

When I was a first grader at Lillian Street Elementary I wrote a book. It was called Como Soy Por Dentro “How I Am on the Inside”. It was my first publication that included crude drawings of our home, family members, and myself. I ended my book with the classic “When I grow up, I want to be a doctor or a lawyer or a cop, and maybe a teacher…,” What can I say, I’ve always been an ambitious person.

Today I am writing this blog as I close out my year of service with AmeriCorps and my dream of becoming a doctor coming to fruition. I was recently accepted into USC’s Educational Doctorate (Ed.D) program in Educational Leadership with a concentration in Higher Education. It has been a long journey. From a promising start as a high performing high school student to being on the brink of academic disqualification during my undergraduate studies at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but I persisted and found a way to bounce back and finish my degree in the Spring of 2010.

After receiving my bachelor’s degree In Elementary Education I spent a year working at a clothing factory for a designer jean company, not exactly what I was expecting as a college graduate but I needed to make ends meet. Each pair of jeans I folded, ticketed, boxed, and shipped was worth more than what I made in one day and the amount of jeans I shipped out in one day were worth more than my entire year’s salary! It was hard work, we were under constant pressure to meet deadlines and avoid any mistakes. I admired everyone who worked there, many of which spoke Spanish and very little English. Their commitment to their job and willingness to help me learn the job was commendable. While working there I was constantly applying for jobs and contemplating graduate school, anything to get out.

Eventually I was hired by Upward Bound, a federally funded program intended to help low-income, first-generation students prepare for college. This is where my passion for higher education began to truly develop. I worked with hundreds of students from 10 different high schools during my time with Upward Bound, some of which have since receive their bachelor’s degree! However, what really caught my attention was the students that were being disqualified during their first yeIMG_0011ar of college, after we had sent them off. I wanted to understand why so many were not making it past their second year. With that in mind I began to narrow what I wanted to do for graduate school.

In 2012, while still working with Upward Bound, I was admitted into the Guidance and Counseling Master’s program at Loyola Marymount University. Many people insisted that graduate school was out of the question because of my low GPA, but that didn’t stop me from applying. After being admitted I began working and attending my graduate program full time. It was a grueling experience that tested my grit and prepared me for the next step in my professional and academic career. I was able to complete my degree with a 3.84 GPA and decided to leave Upward Bound to complete my last semester at Loyola Marymount.

After completing my master’s degree in 2014 I was in search of a service project to defer my Gates Millennium Scholarship and came across the AmeriCorps CSU STEM VISTA program. I was placed at Cal Poly Pomona’s Maximizing Engineering Potential program. This program is also intended to help low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students in engineering.  Arriving at Cal Poly Pomona as an AmeriCorps CSU STEM VISTA was unlike anything I have experienced in my professional career. Although I’ve always considered myself a tech-savvy person and knowledgeable in many different areas, Engineering was a whole new world that I had to adapt to. I spent the first month of my service learning the language and meeting people that I would be collaborating with throughout the year. I coordinated the tutoring for MEP and collaborated with multiple campus departments aswell as industry to host social gatherings, professional development and wellness workshops. I got to experience firsthand the inner workings of a large public university. During my year I began to research doctoral programs and ended up applying to three. I was rejected by CSU Long Beach and Loyola Marymount (my own alma mater!) and after I had lost hope I received an admissions offer from USC! It was a perfect way to transition out of my year of service and I am currently awaiting orientation.

I knew the CSU STEM VISTA position would be just would I needed to strengthen my application for doctoral programs. I relied on my experience as an Upward Bound Counselor and AmeriCorps volunteer to prove that I was committed to education and the advancement of underrepresented students. I also sought out strong letters of recommendations including my current supervisor at Cal Poly Pomona. The message I want to convey in this blog is that there are alternate roads to the same destination. I took the long and winding road to where I am now, but it taught me a valuable lesson. Being an AmeriCorps volunteer has helped me develop a new perspective on life and provided me with an additional year of professional experience. Most importantly, it confirmed that I belong in education!


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