Many options exist to fund their college experience ◆ By Mike Hiles
Dr. Vanessa Gomez, lead counselor for the San Jacinto Unified School District, came to Soboba Preschool's multipurpose room Thursday evening to speak to Soboba tribal members and their aspiring scholars about the importance of continuing one's education, and the plethora of ways to fund college. It was an evening of relating personal struggles and success stories, proving that anything can be achieved if one works hard enough and has a support system to help overcome obstacles, such as paying for college.
The presentation was made possible through a grant from Southern California Edison, which was written and secured by Soboba Foundation Sponsorship and Higher Education Coordinator Andrew Vallejos. The meal enjoyed by participants was catered by Emilio's Mexican Restaurant.
"We were able to secure a $4,166 grant from Southern California Edison for this presentation," said Vallejos. "It's important to encourage our tribal youth to seek out higher education opportunities."
Gomez talked about her early years and the struggles her family conquered in order to achieve the American Dream – a college education that leads to stability and financial success. She began her life in the projects of Barstow, California, born to parents with an eighth grade education whom she calls the wisest people she has ever known. Her grandmother, who could neither read nor write, simply signed her name with a "T."
Growing up poor with older four siblings did not deter Gomez from going to college to fulfill her dreams, however.
"Education really broke the cycle of poverty for my family. I have a brother who is an attorney with his own law practice, a sister who is a funeral director, another brother owns his own business is and mayor of his hometown, and my other brother is a probation officer – we were all able to get our education," said Gomez. "We stood on the shoulders of many, especially our grandparents. My nana didn't have an education, she couldn't write or read, but she was one of the shoulders I stood on – she helped ensure I was able to get what I needed."
Gomez earned her bachelor's degree from University of California, San Diego, her master's degree from University of San Diego (a private college), and in May she earned her doctorate degree from San Diego State University.
"Yes, education is important, but we all have a purpose in this world. I encourage everyone in this room to dream big," said Gomez. "Parents, instead of asking your children what they want to do when they grow up, ask them what problem they want to solve. It's important to find your purpose…your gift…and to share it."
Gomez explained in great detail why a high school diploma just isn't enough for success in today's world and stressed the importance of post-secondary education options such as community college, the military, colleges in the UC and CSU system, and trade schools.
With help from a panel of counselors from the San Jacinto Unified School District and an academic adviser from Mt. San Jacinto College, the group explained graduation requirements, the process by which scholarships are awarded, and the many different avenues of financial aid available to help lower income students achieve their dream to earn a college degree without being saddled with astronomical debt. Scholarships are available for almost anything, Gomez said, including scholarships for people who write with their left hand; Duct Tape sponsors a scholarship for students who create stunning formal wear out of their products.
It's important to note that colleges don't look simply at GPAs anymore – they want to see extra-curricular activities and community service – colleges prefer well-rounded individuals with a variety of interests, said Gomez. And it's important to have not only a Plan A, but a Plan B and a Plan C.
"It's important to apply to at least seven colleges," said Gomez. "Students need to be prepared in case their first choice doesn't accept them."
Several tribal students shared their dreams for their future. Hattie Arres, 13, an eighth-grader at North Mountain Middle School, wants to be a business owner and a firefighter. Her dream is to attend the University of Miami. Her sister, Asona, 14, is a freshman at San Jacinto High School, and while she hasn't quite decided yet on her career path, she is interested in going to college.
"I like the beach," explained Hattie as to why she selected University of Miami as her first choice. "My favorite subjects in school right now are math and languages. I'm learning Spanish and Luiseño, the language of my tribe."
Ajay Parcero, 18, a senior at San Jacinto High School, has already been accepted to Concordia University in Irvine, where he received a full scholarship to play baseball, and his parents, Julie and Albert Parcero, couldn't be prouder. Ajay, who ultimately wants to work in sports medicine or sports management, has known he wanted to play baseball since he was a kid.
"I stepped on the field at age 8 or 9 and just knew this is what I wanted to do," said Ajay.
Riley Ward, a ninth grade student at San Jacinto Valley Academy, aspires to be a mechanical engineer.
"When I was in elementary school, all my teachers wanted me to attend Western Center Academy because of their science programs," said Riley, 14. "But I decided to go to San Jacinto Valley Academy because of their sports programs."
Riley plays volleyball, track and field and softball for the school. She said math is her favorite subject, and Spanish is her least favorite.
Su'la Arviso, 12, a seventh-grader at North Mountain, has some lofty goals – she wants to be on the Soboba Tribal Council by the time she reaches age 25, and she also wants to join the U.S. Marine Corps. She's looking forward to attending University of California, Riverside, or University of California, San Diego, when she graduates high school. Her younger sister, Moyla Arviso, is just eight years old, but she already knows what she wants to be – an illustrator.
"My goal is to attend Harvard University," said Moyla.
As Gomez says, dream big! You never know what you can achieve with perseverance and hard work.