“When you have scholarship support like TAAP, you have the freedom to think about what you want out of your career and explore options in a way you couldn’t
When Manuel Buenrostro ’06 was a senior at UC Berkeley, he served as the president of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC).
Manuel, today an education policy analyst for the California School Boards Association, says that he never would have had the opportunity to serve in such a demanding role if it wasn’t for The Achievement Award Program (TAAP).
“Student body president is like a full-time job,” he says. “Because of my TAAP scholarship, I had the privilege of not needing to hold a job during the school year, which allowed me to focus on my academics and student government.”
Manuel grew up in Santa Barbara, the second oldest of four boys. His parents and grandparents came from Mexico. His father works as a carpet cleaner, and his mother cares for seniors. His grandparents, who helped raise him, worked in the kitchen and laundry facilities, respectively, of a local hospital.
In high school, Manuel assumed he would attend a nearby college—either Santa Barbara City College or UC Santa Barbara. In his junior year of high school, he participated in a summer program for college-bound students and the counselor asked him if he had ever considered Berkeley. “At that point in life, I didn’t even know where Cal was,” Manuel says.
He decided to apply to Cal and remembers the excitement of getting his acceptance letter. Receiving the initiation to join TAAP, however, topped that. “I immediately showed the TAAP acceptance letter to my grandparents,” he says. “We just kept hugging each other. Because that is the moment I was 99.9 percent sure I was going to Berkeley.”
The TAAP community soon became Manuel’s core Cal family, and the program also helped launch his career. He credits his TAAP community service stint with the I Can at Cal program, a mentorship and outreach program for students in the Oakland Unified School District, for sparking his interest in a career in education.
“That experience with I Can at Cal allowed me to understand what’s happening outside of campus, which I think is critical to a well-rounded education,” Manuel shares. “It also it also put me on a path to what I do now: working in public education, conducting research on best practices on ways that California schools can close opportunity gaps.”
The financial support TAAP provided also contributed to his career choice, says Manuel, who after graduating from Cal with a political science degree earned a master’s in elementary education from Loyola Marymount University and a master’s in public policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. The economic security TAAP provided gave Manuel the freedom to explore Cal to its fullest and discover a career that made him passionate.
“For many of us from immigrant families, there is the stress of school that everyone has, but there is also often the added stress of needing to hold a job while in college, and maybe helping your family out economically, too,” he explains. “Often, for us, the focus is on simply on getting through college—being able to think about graduate school and job options is a luxury. But when you have scholarship support like TAAP, you have the freedom to think about what you want out of your career and explore options in a way you couldn’t otherwise.”
Like most TAAP scholars, Manuel says he appreciated being part of a small, supportive cohort on a large campus. “One of the things that everybody says about Berkeley is that you got to make it smaller, right? TAAP did that and gave us a unique bond and the space to come together every so often, allowed us to just talk, share common challenges.”
And that connection is a lasting one. “Today, whenever I see a TAAP Scholar, even if I haven’t seen them in five or ten years, I smile at them, because we have that common connection. It makes my heart happy when I see them.”
When asked why it is important for donors to support TAAP, Manuel says the answer is simple.
“I tell them the investment pays back one thousand fold. You are not only supporting a student, which is amazing enough, but you are supporting a student who is very likely to give back to the community.
“I think that TAAP embodies the values of UC Berkeley. There is the recognition that with a college education comes some freedom and some privilege that other people might not have. So while we deserve everything that we have earned, at the same time, we have been provided with a great education at Berkeley that comes with an obligation to help the world around you.”
Posted on September 3, 2019 - 8:00am