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Running head: YOUNG MAN OF COLOR

Beating the Odds


Jessica M. McKenna
San Diego State University

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Abstract

This paper is a culmination of two meetings with a high school junior named David. David is a
Mexican-American that plans to be the first in his family to graduate from college. He is driven
and curious, yet slightly unaware of the steps needed to get to college. Together we viewed data
that represented Hispanics in different categories ranging from incarceration to postsecondary
education. Through these meetings I was able to discuss with David various topics including
college preparation, career goals and family and cultural influences.

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Interest, Participation and Engagement


About David
David is a sixteen year old boy who lives with his mother, father and younger sister. Both
of his parents were born in Mexico and come from large families, while David was born in Chula
Vista and is one of only two children. When I asked David what race or ethnicity he identifies as
he said that while some people call themselves Hispanic or Latino, he simply says he is Mexican
because of his pride for the culture (D.Garcia, personal communication, October 21, 2015).
Davids father has significantly less education than his mother, neither of them have
postsecondary degrees. David is currently enrolled in AP classes and has only received A and B
grades during high school, being a straight A student beginning his sophomore year. He is
conservative, smart and friendly. He takes his school work seriously and I often see him reading
or studying for upcoming exams. Davids parents expect him to succeed and he takes that
expectation seriously.
College and Career Readiness
David was highly interested and engaged in our first meeting. From our past exchanges, I
knew that David was highly motivated and would most likely enjoy talking about his educational
goals. During our interview, he shared with me that attending college was not only important to
him personally but to his family as well. He stated that while his family is doing well now, that
was not always the case and they want to prevent him from enduring the same struggles that they
faced. David, his sister and cousins are all encouraged to pursue higher education by the
generation before them. Davids biggest role model is his father, but is also inspired to do well by
his girlfriend. He takes pride in his grades and likes to impress others with them. He has

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struggled with comparing himself to other students, but feels as though as he has moved past
that.
David feels as though his exposure to college and the college going process is limited.
He knows that his parents cannot help him in regards to college and feels confused about the
next steps required to prepare for the college process, including scholarship information.
However, he does understand that Helix is preparing him to attend a 4-year university, since the
graduation requirements are aligned with the A-G requirements. He feels intimidated and
nervous about addressing college with adults, including the College Access Counselor on
campus. He feels as though the counselors should do more to expose students to college and be
aggressive in their work in providing students with college access. David believes that even if
students are uncomfortable, they should have a meeting about college and that college
preparation should begin in middle school. Even with the lack of exposure that David has had to
college he does know that he would like to attend MIT or Caltech (D.Garcia, personal
communication, October 21, 2015).
Currently, David is interested in majoring in both mechanical and environmental
engineering. His dream career is to work in the automotive field which was influenced by both
his father and his fourth grade teacher, Mr. Perez. When pushed a little bit about that being a
dream career, he shared that he is overwhelmed about career information and is still trying to
gather information about what particular careers include. Before ending the conversation about
careers, he spoke about possibly having a career in biology, which further cemented the fact that
he is pulled in many directions when it comes to determining a future career (D.Garcia, personal
communication, October 21, 2015).

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Data, Determination and David

Helixs Hispanic/Latino population had a graduation rate of 88.5% in 2013 and 89.1% in
2014. In those same years, the dropout rates for Hispanic/Latino students were 5.3% and 2.4%
(Dataquest). While, the graduation rates are not low, they are still lower than their White, Asian
or Pacific Islander and even in some cases their Black counterparts. When I asked David why he
thought Hispanic/Latino students might drop out of school he suggested that they needed to help
their parents financially because the cost of living in the United States is dramatically higher than
in Mexico. He also shared that he believes it is part of his culture to help the family by staying
home and assisting parents. To provide David with an even clearer picture of the educational
landscape for Hispanics/Latinos, I shared with David that Nationally, only twenty percent of
Latino adults have a postsecondary degree, compared to 36 percent of all U.S. adults. In
California, only 16 percent of Latino adults over 25 have an associate or bachelor's degree,
compared to 38 percent of all adults in that age group(Lilley,2014). While David did care about
the data, he shared that a large part of his culture is that family comes first and he believes that
every generation will continue to do better. When we looked at the incarceration data for
Hispanics after high school which was 5.2% and the unemployment rates for Hispanics which
was 46.5%, David became frustrated (College Board). He said that it felt discouraging because
he felt as though no progress is being made in those areas. When wrapping up the data
component of our conversation, David made it clear that he knew he would do better than the
generation before him, regardless of what the data showed.
Second Meeting
Unfortunately, because of schedule conflicts with Davids tests in his AP classes, I had
limited time to meet with him and complete our activity. The activity that I had planned was for

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us to complete the Strengths Explorer assessment on Naviance. David had mentioned Naviance
as a tool that had helped expose him to college. When we focused on majors and careers, David
seemed to be pulled in different directions, so I thought having his strengths assessed might
assist him in becoming more focused. Based on the strengths of the student, Naviance provides
various careers that can draw from the attributes the student possesses. My hope is that these
career suggestions can provide David with some further knowledge about different careers.
While we could not complete it together, David agreed to complete the survey and let me know
what strengths and careers Naviance suggested.
David was also able to meet with the College Access Counselor and we discussed the
outcomes of that meeting, which were all positive. He now has a better understanding of what
steps he will need to complete to apply to the colleges of his choice. I provided him with a list of
schools that were Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and a link to the Hispanic Scholarship
Fund website. My goal with both of these resources was to provide him with the opportunity to
look at schools that have a minimum of 25% of Hispanics on campus and a scholarship
opportunity that has clear instructions for him to follow, since he felt timid about the scholarship
process.
Reflection
I found this to be a learning experience on various levels. I went into this with a focus on
Davids race/ethnicity, when in actuality that was less of a factor for David. I enjoyed learning
about Davids family and understanding his viewpoints about his culture and the things that drive
him. I related to David in many ways, even though we are not the same gender or race/ethnicity.
We discussed how students who are very high achieving or doing very poorly often get the most

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attention and the students who are doing really well are sometimes looked over because there is
an assumption that they have someone that can assist them. I shared with David that I felt that all
of my teachers and counselors assumed that I would figure out the process on my own since I did
well in school and participated in extracurricular activities, but in reality I was a first generation
college student, much like David, and had no resources. Furthermore, Davids insight about
college access and exposure really opened my eyes to the struggle that so many students are
facing. He is at a school that has four school counselors, four academic advisors and one college
access counselor and still feels uninformed, so what about our students with even less resources?

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References

College Board. Examining the research literature. (n.d.). Retrieved October 27, 2015.
DataQuest (CA Dept of Education). (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2015.
Lilley, S. (2014, April 15). Latino college completion rates low despite enrollment. Retrieved
October 19, 2015.
Krogstad, J., & Fry, R. (2014, April 24). More Hispanics, blacks enrolling in college, but lag in
bachelors degrees. Retrieved October 19, 2015.