I was rushing to second period when my counselor asked, “Did you send your application to Dartmouth yet?” stopping to interrogate me in the hall.
In my mind, Dartmouth College was not even on my radar because it was too far, too secluded, and too different. When I carefully responded, “No, I don’t know if I will be applying there,” my counselor would not let me make this mistake. She said, “What! You have to submit that application. I’m going to contact the recruiting representative to make sure they see your application.”
Five years later, I now realize that this fleeting interaction was at a pivotal crossroads in my life. I am grateful for my close-knit school community and my counselor’s high-level involvement in my college application process.
A Kid Like Me From East Los Angeles
Looking back, I know now how lucky I am to have attended that high-performing public charter school. When my mother heard about the new charter school opening up in my East Los Angeles neighborhood, she immediately enrolled me at Alliance Marc and Eva Stern Math And Science High School.
My parents are immigrants from Mexico who never finished high school but instilled in me the determination to go to college and realize their “American dream.” My classmates and I all shared the aspiration to go to college, and our teachers and counselors supported us to make sure we got there.
I didn’t realize how important it was to select the right college. Fortunately, I listened to my counselor and applied to Dartmouth. When I received my acceptance letter and financial aid award, I could not believe that a kid like me from East Los Angeles, who would be the first in his family to go to college, had a full ride!
First-Generation at Dartmouth
My path at Dartmouth was also supported from the beginning. I was in a program called “First Year Student Enrichment Program” (FYSEP) which was designed to assist first-generation college students. I was able to arrive on campus a few weeks before orientation and practiced taking notes in class, turning in a paper, and attending a professor’s office hours. The FYSEP community provided me with the foundation I needed to feel comfortable in a very different environment and eventually own my experience at Dartmouth.
I studied at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering and graduated with both a bachelor’s of arts and a bachelor’s of engineering. In the summers, I worked as a research assistant in a freeze-casting laboratory and joined the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble to play the drums. Senior year, we traveled on a cultural exchange trip to Cuba where we shared the stage with some of the best, young musicians in the world.
This past June, I was able to graduate with zero debt and now work at Northrop Grumman as a vehicle engineer. I love what I do—it is hard to even consider what I do to be work.
While I did not believe in myself, my counselor did. She knew that I could succeed at a college that I had considered to be “too far and too different.” I realize now that Dartmouth is an Alliance Power 150 school, a college that intentionally creates the conditions to help me take full advantage of my educational experience and succeed at Dartmouth. Sadly, most colleges offer far less transitional support for first-generation college students like me.
As a result of the support and attention I received, I feel a deep responsibility to help the next generation of Alliance students. I am now a member of the young professionals board at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, helping to raise funds for scholarships and volunteering for workshops to help more students, like me, prepare for and get into Alliance Power 150 colleges.
My experience can help inspire students who might otherwise doubt their chances of reaching for top-tier colleges. I am glad that I submitted my application and thank my counselor for playing an important role in my success today.