Kruttschnitt Aspire Scholarship Program (KASP) scholar Pedro Flores, Jr. took the non-traditional route to UC Berkeley. An admittedly disinterested high school student, he hung out with gangs in his South Central LA neighborhood. “I had trouble staying away because my friends were gang members,” Pedro explains, who attributes much of his success to his mom. “She pulled me off the streets, brought me inside, and kept me busy.”
Pedro took Chicano studies his senior year of high school. “Victor Villasenor’s Rain of Gold was the first book I ever read. It changed everything. The struggle in the book reflected the struggle of my parents.” That was when Pedro began to find meaning to education. “I started reading, especially Chicano writers. I found it great to learn.”
After high school, Pedro worked in aviation for seven years. His employer saw his potential and convinced him to try college through an employer-paid tuition program. Pedro worked full-time while carrying a heavy academic load at East LA Community College. He recalls one teacher who loved teaching night classes “because her students showed up, even though they worked long hours.”
Although she praised his first paper, his teacher gave him a C. “She loved my concepts and said I had great ideas, but I couldn’t write,” he recalls. “She turned me on to several writing workshops. I received an A on my next paper.”
Pedro went on to present a paper on the lack of resources for non-traditional community college students at the UC Irvine’s Honors Tranfer Council of California Student Research Conference. He also created a non-traditional campus student union. “Transfer rates are increasing rapidly, especially among non-traditional students, who now have better resources.”
When the opportunity to attend Berkeley presented itself, Pedro was concerned about bridging the money gap it would take to attend. Earning a KASP scholarship helped solve this problem, along with the campus job he held mentoring and guiding community college transfer students through the university admissions process.
While modest about his success, Pedro is frank about the challenges he’s faced as a first-generation Cal student and father. “Given my background, it was hard to find a community. Everything was new to me and navigating the university system is difficult.” He found guidance through resources like CAA’s Alumni Scholars Program. “I had to get over the mindset that I didn’t belong here. CAA provides this space and people to guide me.”
“Learning to ask for help was a challenge… [it] is not common in my culture. It’s considered a weakness. Everyone needs a hand. Cal is very accepting, very helping. Accepting help and saying ‘thank you’ were growth steps,” shares Pedro.
Now a senior with eyes on a Ph.D. in education and a career in research and community college teaching, Pedro counsels his students to accept help and take risks. “You have to take the risk. Otherwise, you are living in a safe zone. There is no way out of a safe zone without risk and opportunity. That’s how I landed at Cal. I saw an opportunity and took the risk.”
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