Mexican experience in a STEM University
I’ll start this direct and bluntly — I am a Mexican-American, who comes from a family of food-stamps recipients, construction workers, and substance abuse addicts. I also originate from a culture in which the praise for college was abundant, yet the context as to “why”, was opaque and blurry, to say the least. Unfortunately, when not properly exposed — the immediate monetary rewards of pursuing a life of concrete bag mixing can justify the circumvention of a grueling academic career, where any outcome is abstract.
Always priding myself in my diligence and persistence, not only can I claim membership to the 9% of community college students that successfully transferred out to a University; I also survived a grueling waiting period to overcome the initial waitlist that I was placed on, essentially the University’s ‘you’re a decent student, but let’s wait to see if a higher tier student declines our offer of admission, and then maybe you can take one of their spots’ list. Furthermore, the Math-Computer Science department became impacted the year I joined, and so I had to wait a quarter to gain admission to my desired field of study.
Imposter Syndrome was the theme of my time at UCSD, perhaps at a psychological level, this was more of a self-esteem issue, than it was an issue invoked by the University. But when you walk into a lecture hall of an Operating Systems upper-division Computer Science course and see 1–2% of students that are your race, the feelings of inadequacy and guilt seem to flood in. Most of the projects assigned at UCSD are indeed group/collaborative, and I always felt like the outcast trying to wiggle my way into social groups — or in this case, homework groups. There were many moments of feeling inadequate to peers who’d come from family lines of Engineers, the ‘cloud of confusion as to their overall career objectives did not seem to exist.
From a clear practical and physical point of view, there were plenty of instances in which I simply had less time to accomplish the same tasks, reasons that were out of my control. I had a two-hour commute to school, via bus/trolley, and I’d have to give up group work time, to instead accommodate the bus schedule, to ensure that I’d be home at a reasonable time. Lastly, the greatest challenge was the pressure that existed in the home-front, to excel and finish. The reason is that after a few years of school, most of my social circle who went straight into the construction trade were already reaching financial competence. Contrast that to me, still penny-pinching for coffee’s to stay up and study. There was certainly a pressure to “live up to the sacrifice” so to speak, and ultimately arrive at the desired destination of contentment and success.
My time at UCSD was rigorous and challenging, and my initial hypothesis was that the primary benefit would be to learn and understand many insightful equations, and learn to program. However, to my surprise, the greatest reward was learning about myself, perfecting as best as I could the skills of time management, working under pressure, collaborating during stress, and overall pushing myself way beyond what I thought was possible.