“I didn’t realize what I can do and that I can make a difference with my actions. Thank you for showing me that I can do something like this!”
Armando, one of the leaders in the college-readiness program I used to manage, sent me this text after his first blog was posted on the Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera website. In the blog, he shares his vision for creating a “solar movement” in Pico Rivera and the importance of exposing students in middle school to STEM.
I met Armando as a junior at El Rancho High School when he participated in the school’s first Northern California College Expedition. As we toured Stanford, I couldn’t help but notice his facial expressions and his overwhelming excitement to be on a college campus. He shared that he loved math and engineering but had not had the opportunity to enroll into any of the engineering courses offered at his high school because of his tight schedule.
I could tell he was passionate. But before making any promises, I told him: “Engineering is very competitive but if you have the drive and the time and commitment, I can help.”
And then I asked him, “Are you willing to do whatever it takes?”
He didn’t even blink.
His immediate response was a firm “Anything.”
Meeting the Challenge
It was during that trip that I committed myself to being his advisor, his mentor and most importantly, his biggest supporter. I knew he had the ganas (desire), but I wanted to make sure he was willing to put in the work as well.
I arranged our first counseling meeting and agreed to research summer programs that would allow Armando to gain some necessary hands-on experience in the field. After much research and with the support of my colleague, we found a STEM program at Los Angeles Trade Tech Center (LATTC).
Once Armando was accepted, we realized that he would face another challenge: transportation. Without hesitation, he once again met the challenge. Armando spent five weeks over the summer attending STEM focused courses that provided him with hands-on opportunities working with solar energy all while receiving college credit. Every day he took a one hour ride to LATTC and another one hour ride back to El Rancho to attend the last half of the senior boot camp weekly three-hour workshops.
Aiming for Success
At the end of the summer, we sat down to discuss personal statements, and it was then that a new idea surfaced. In Armando’s experience with learning about solar energy and volunteering for a non-profit that installed solar panels, he had come to the realization that his hometown, Pico Rivera, was not up to date with the solar movement.
After much brainstorming, we decided to propose an after-school club at one of the local middle schools to teach students about solar energy and expose them to hands-on solar focused experiments. We worked on a proposal and a budget and shared it with the district and a potential funder. A month later, Armando’s project was approved.
I was worried that maybe this would be too much on his plate. After all, he was a senior, involved with student government and serving as the varsity soccer captain, all while applying for college. However, Armando’s tenacity convinced me he could handle everything.
Three months later, I get to witness what we once thought of as a potential idea become a reality. Armando’s club has resulted in praise and exceeded many expectations. The truth is I am proud of Armando, not so much for his commitment to create awareness about the harm that pollution causes and the importance of solar energy, but because he stepped up to the plate and became the person he would have liked having around when he was younger.
He sees that our communities deserve the best and rather than waiting around for someone else to do something, he chose to be the one to spark the movement.
I share Armando’s story because in light of all the negativity, it is important to appreciate silver linings. Every day, our students are either discouraged or inspired by us. We are in control of the kind of impact we have on them. So think about all the students and young adults you encounter. Think about the power of your words. Remember that a simple “I believe in you” can go far.
Above all, push students to believe in themselves; sometimes that’s what it takes for them to unleash their own potential.