Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Please Welcome Special Guest Alejandro Perez

Using Disadvantage to Your Advantage
By Alejandro Perez

I used to think that if a person did not receive a college degree, it was his or her fault. That he or she chose not to put in the effort and work hard enough to move on to higher education. This may still be true to an extent, yet there is a much bigger picture that is often ignored: compared to whites, people of color in this country remain at an educational, and therefore economic, disadvantage.

Historically, when college first started here in the United States, it was originally made to educate wealthy white male students, then it expanded to all white male students, rich or poor, and then eventually to white women. Over time, college would become what it is today, available for every student of any background to attend; however, people of color – Blacks, Latin@s, Native Americans, etc. – are still struggling to catch up.

As whites graduated with their degrees and made more money they would often return to their old schools and contribute to improve them and become role models to the students. For people of color, there has unfortunately rarely been much of that. For these cultures, not pursuing higher education has become the norm due to the fact that it is so uncommon in their communities. Because of this, schools such as Coachella Valley High School, with a predominately Latin@ population, have less resources provided to them, less money to send students on field trips to colleges, and less role models to look at as motivation to see that higher education is possible. All of this results in limiting students’ abilities and in students limiting themselves.

If you are reading this and you are a person of color, this is the reality you face that you might not have even noticed yet. Just by being a person of color you are put at a disadvantage, not only in the education system, but also in this society in general. In other words, going to college is not really seen in your future and this system is basically designed for you to fail.

So all odds are against you. How do you fight it? Do you just accept it and not even try to go on to higher education like many people you know have done in the past? Or do you apply to college and try to beat this system before it beats you? And even when you apply to college, do you just apply to the easy schools that you know you will for sure get into? Or do you challenge yourself and aim high by applying to UCs and private schools? While some of these questions may seem like they have obvious answers of what not to do, you will be surprised when you see the number of students who still actually get beaten by the system. The way I see to beat this system is this: use your disadvantage to your advantage. 

Consider the following scenario: So imagine you work for a university, lets say UCLA, and your job is to read applications and decide whom you think should be admitted, given that you have a limited amount of students you can accept. You have two applications side by side, one is an applicant from Palm Desert High School and the other is from Coachella Valley High School. As you go over the applications and compare them, you notice that they are nearly equal. One may have a higher GPA, while the other has higher test scores, and they both have really strong personal statements. How can you decide between the two if they are pretty much equal? But then you start to dig deeper. You see that the applicant from Palm Desert High School had everything needed to apply to college, all the materials, all the resources, everything. On the other hand, the applicant from Coachella Valley High School had little to nothing, less materials, less resources, etc. At that moment you tell yourself, “This person from Palm Desert had everything handed to them in high school, while this person from Coachella had very little handed to them…yet still managed to put in the work, get the grades, and prove that college is important.” Now you make your decision.

See what I mean now? Even though all the odds are against you, but you still manage to prove that you deserve to be accepted into a prestigious university, you will stand out. You might still doubt if this is even true. If you doubt it, go to any alumni you know from CVHS that went to a UC or private school and ask them if they had anything handed to them in high school and how much work they put in when they applied to college. I can already tell you what they will say because this situation is exactly what happened to me.

But in order to get to that point, first of all, you cannot let people limit you, school faculty, family, peers, etc. But more importantly, you cannot limit yourself. This is the way the broken system beats you. What I mean by limiting yourself is never settling for the minimum. This is where a student’s effort comes into play. You apply to college, ok cool, that is great! But was it challenging for you at all though? Did the application ask you any questions that really made you think? Was there an essay you had to write for the application? Maybe two essays? In other words, were any of the schools you applied to UC’s or private schools? This is where it takes more than just having good grades and test scores. Like CVHS senior Aylene Sicairos explained in the previous blog, “For The Well Rounded Student, Every Minute Counts,” it is important to get involved and stand out, outside of the classroom. I did not nearly have the high test scores that students usually have when they are accepted into UC’s. My SAT, ACT, and AP scores were below the average. However, I played sports all four years of high school, joined two different clubs, did community service off campus, managed a 3.9 GPA and worked my ass off to perfect my personal statement.

For those of you who want to aim high and are willing to put in the work, but are concerned about financial issues…if you are accepted into a university I can almost guarantee that they will give you a good amount of financial aid. However, if you are still concerned that that still will not be enough, ask yourself, what scholarships are out there? Did you even think about applying for scholarships? Once again, if you really want it you will put in the work. This is how you beat the system.

To reference Aylene Sicairos again, will this come with stress? Indeed it will. Will this help you improve yourself as a diligent scholar? Absolutely!

I did not write this with the intention to say that I am right and everything else you hear is wrong. I wrote this so that you can be aware of the reality around you and develop a different understanding when your time comes to apply to colleges.

As you become more aware of the system you are in, remind yourself that overcoming the many obstacles placed before you is not impossible. Take advantage of your disadvantage. Once you make it here, be ready for the experience of a lifetime!

Alejandro Perez was born and raised in the City of Coachella. He is a first year Chicano Studies and Global Studies double major at UC Santa Barbara and hopes to get his PhD and become a Professor. He is very passionate about his culture and loves being a social activist. Anyone with questions about the college application process, UCSB, or college in general, feel free to email Alejandro at

Monday, February 29, 2016

Please Welcome Special Guest Aylene Sicairos

For the Well Rounded Student, Every Minute Counts
By Aylene Sicairos

Albert Einstein once said, "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving." If you are college driven, one of the biggest things you must keep in mind is being well rounded. Really, if you ever have a conversation about school with an adult, they will ask you if you are doing a sport or if you are in a club. It's crucial that you try to balance yourself out by not only keeping up your grades, but also by doing productive things with your time. Colleges love that, and they keep it in mind when selecting students.

Now, even though I just said you should try to do as much as possible in high school, my real point here is to give advice on how to balance it all out. Being well rounded means not only doing your best academically, but also being a leader, a teammate, a volunteer, a role model, and someone you, yourself, are proud of. For example, I am currently a senior at Coachella Valley High School and have been in cheerleading for three consecutive years. I am part of various clubs such as the Advanced Placement Club, Girl Power, the Chorus Club, and the National Honor Society, and I am ranked among the top ten percent of my class. I am the oldest of six children, and I am practically the second mother at home. On top of all that, I have taken five AP classes throughout my high school career.

Can you imagine going to school at seven a.m. every morning, then going to meetings right after school, then going to practices for a sport, and then getting home at around six every day, sometimes even as late as eight? Oh, and then on top of that, when you get home you have to help siblings with homework, clean up after you help make dinner, and somehow squeeze in homework without falling asleep after you shower around eleven p.m.? Yeah, that's just a little summary of my usual day. I took the chance to join many groups and activities, but I did it for my own benefit. Do I cry and complain at times? Of course! However, my study habits have improved as well as my time management skills. I can honestly say I'm prepared for college because of this.

Believe it or not, having so many things going on in my life has kept me on my toes and allowed me to get things done more efficiently. The way I look at it, if I have more free time to myself, I'll most likely waste it by watching Netflix all day or playing video games when I could be putting in extra study time or doing homework. Others may feel movies and video games are necessary forms of entertainment or relaxation, but I believe it's more important that students take time to explore their interests in clubs and get to know more people. I mean, you can tweet to people all day if you want, but it's much more worthwhile meeting people that have the same interests as you—face to face—as you would by joining clubs and sports. People who share an interest of singing join the Chorus Club; people who love acting join the Drama Club, etc. There are even people who form their own clubs and find people who enjoy the same interests, such as the Rubik’s Cube Club.

Now that I have given you a small a look at my life, I can tell you that taking on so many responsibilities might stress you out at times; it is only normal. I once got stress rashes during my freshman year for freaking out so much. When you have a lot on your plate, the best way to make sure you get everything done is to make a priority list. I literally jot down everything I have to do on a paper, and then sort it out in order of importance. Now, I have had to pick and choose sometimes, believe it or not, and dedicate more time to one class on a certain day, or to practice my dance routines more than my schoolwork on another. When this happens, I try to compensate for the other classes the next day and make sure I am soon up to par with everything again. If you ever get double booked on meetings on a certain day, for example, tell the club advisors. Make sure you let them know. They’ll understand. There really is no need to stress as long as you have a valid excuse.

Make sure you do not overwork yourself though. It’s also important to know your limits. I always thought I could do as much as I put on my plate and never crash and burn. I won't be specific, but it happened. Let's just say my grades started to suffer at the worst time possible in anyone's life. I had always been the type of student to never worry about grades because I never had that problem. When I was confronted with the issue, I finally realized that I had to limit my workload. There will always be a limit to what you can do, so make sure you don't overextend yourself.

Most importantly, have fun…just as long as you can remain focused on your classes because your grades are ultimately what you should make your number one priority. Squeeze in as much study time as you can…and if possible, help your parents at home as much as you can squeeze that in too. Colleges will take every thing you do into consideration, so be wise as you start out in high school. Even though it’s never too late to get involved in something new, consistency is also very important; which means it's better when you're a part of the same things for years, such as being in the same sport since freshman year, or holding a position in student government since freshman year as well.

I can honestly say all this hard work has paid off because I had so much to write about and include when it came to completing my scholarship portfolio and applying to colleges. I am currently waiting for my college acceptances. So far I’ve been accepted to Cal State Long Beach and Grand Canyon University. I am telling you, the joy from getting acceptance letters is out of this world! I can truly say that my attempt to be well rounded in high school has made me a stronger student. Finding the right balance between my academics and my activities has improved my time management skills, which will pay off in the long run as well. Now, as I prepare to graduate from high school and start a new journey in college, I am certain the skills I have gained here will be put to valuable use.

Aylene Sicairos is a giraffe obsessed, aspiring neurosurgeon who plans on ending bullying one day. Her hobbies include singing, dancing, playing video games, and binge watching Netflix.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Please Welcome Special Guest Jose Luis Landeros

The Importance of Time Management
By Jose Luis Landeros

There is nothing worse for a student in this world than to have a due date rapidly approaching and being nowhere close to actually finishing the assignment. I'm really sure this has happened to at least 100 percent of all students. As students, we have multiple responsibilities, which may range from homework, chores, sports, jobs, internships, or many other activities. Commitments such as these may ultimately reduce the time we give to what is, or what should be, our most important mission: doing well in school. Roberto Gomez Bolaños once said, "One can recover money, love, prestige, or any other lost thing ... except time." So is there a realistic solution to making the most out of our time? If there is, it has not reached my ears. Rather than a single solution though, there are strategies we can take.

Many times I have heard that our generation was served on a silver platter, referring to the technological advances that exist today. And this may be true. Nowadays, we have so many possibilities at the reach of our fingertips. We have reliable Google, effective YouTube, and an uncountable number of apps such as Khan Academy that can ameliorate our understanding of something and help us learn new things. At this point you may be asking yourself what this has to do with time management, right? Well, as you may already know, everything has its pros and cons. The Internet is not an exception. It all depends on how we decide to use this tool. For example, games and social media are entertaining; no one can doubt that, but everything has limits. Being addicted to these tools can obstruct us from being able to manage our time. Believe it or not, these things are deviating us from what is really important, our education. Let's try to minimize distractions. Make separate time for studying, and make that time a priority over gaming and social media.

We are referred to as students, and it is not a misnomer. Our main job is to study. That is why we should always prioritize our academic assignments over everything else. In order to do that, we must learn to better organize ourselves. For example, using to-do lists, agendas, etc. There are many apps for use on our tablets and smartphones that can help with this; and for those of us that prefer, there are agendas and calendars available in print as well. These kinds of organizational tools and strategies may not be easy to get used to; however, they have the potential to greatly increase our efficiency. After all, we all have the same amount of time: twenty-four hours a day (one thousand four hundred and forty minutes to be exact). Make the most out of your time. Managing our time efficiently can be vital in determining how well we do in school. Always be cognizant of due dates and plan ahead.

There are many other strategies, methods, or ways of making the most of our time, but all require personal discipline and none are easy. Perhaps, managing your time wisely may be one of the hardest tasks of being a student. Especially if you are a senior, with due dates approaching hazardously and inconspicuously. So make schoolwork a priority over entertainment and take advantage of technology without getting distracted by it.

Jose Luis Landeros is a senior at Coachella Valley High School. He currently serves as an intern for Congressman Raul Ruiz and plans to study engineering in college.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Please Welcome Hector Marin-Alcantar: UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering


My name is Hector Marin-Alcantar. I am a 2015 Graduate of Coachella Valley High School and a first-year student at the University of California, San Diego: Jacobs School of Engineering. My major is Aerospace Engineering, which is essentially rocket science.       

In my first quarter at UC San Diego I enrolled in four courses: Anthropology 21: Race and Racism, Introduction to Aerospace, General Chemistry, and Orientation to Engineering. I didn’t take math my first quarter because I didn’t want to overload myself, and because of the AP Exams I passed in high school, I have fewer courses to take in my first year.

Because of the AP Exams I passed in high school, I have fewer courses to take in my first year.

My first day of class definitely felt new and exciting…except for waking up so early. My chemistry class was in a large lecture hall that easily seats about 400 students. I was impressed to discover that my chemistry professor is a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a prestigious research institution that is a world leader in biology, marine biology, and biochemistry. Knowing I had a professor with a research background was nerve racking. At times I felt bombarded with super-sophisticated language, not to mention the unspoken pressure to do well or else.

As the quarter progressed, I grew accustomed to the size of the lecture class and began to get a feel for the pace of the course—which was quite fast! A quarter is only ten weeks! By the end of the second week you are already talking about midterm exams! I would read on the weekends and attend discussions to go over topics that I didn't quite get in lecture. I found that it helps to engage in class discussions because it perpetuates thinking about the subject and allows you to see different points of view.

When the professor showed the Schrödinger Equation, all you heard was the noise of a hundred people going, “Ohhhh…”

Overall, chemistry was definitely much more demanding than in high school. For instance, in high school you learn that the Neil Bohr’s Model addresses the structure of the hydrogen atom. The model describes the nucleus in the center of the atom with an electron orbiting around it. That’s what you learn in high school…however, when you go to college…you learn in Quantum Chemistry that the Bohr Model is actually wrong as it violates the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. So then it becomes necessary to look at Schrödinger’s Equation (a crazy looking equation that you probably won’t go over in high school because it involves multivariable calculus) to explain the structure of an atom with multiple electrons. I recall in lecture when the professor showed the Schrödinger Equation, all you heard was the noise of a hundred people going, “Ohhhh…” I’m happy to say that I not only survived the class, I did remarkably well.

My Anthropology class was less stressful. I had to write an “Identity Reflection Assignment” from which I learned a lot about the discourse that the United States bestowed upon its residents, such as how the US transitioned form “Overt Racism” to “Covert Racism.” It was truly an eye opening experience to learn about “Colorblind Racism” (the pursuit of equal opportunity without taking into account systematic racism). The class required lots of reading; but luckily, the material in the book remained interesting as it pertained to my community. I thrived in the class discussions and even shared my own insights and answered questions from my professor (the lecture hall was much smaller than chemistry). Overall, the class was amazing and I really enjoyed discussing the topic of race and how it affects people of color. I have learned tools to combat racism that I will take with me through out life.

My Orientation to Engineering class was about applying mathematics to everyday engineering problems and it was accompanied with labs on a programing interface called Python. Python is a programing system that allows you to write code. We used Python to derive, integrate, and calculate the bending moment of a metal beam on a robot arm. After we compiled the data, we were able to determine the modulus of elasticity in order to figure out what kind of material the robot arm should be made out of. I also learned that you can math the hell out of everything using Linear Algebra. By having a system of equations, we can write the equations in vector notation and into a matrix. We can use Python to calculate and solve for each variable easily. I really loved how you can use math for literally everything! It was an epiphany, a revelation, a new view of the world! It was simply awesome!

I was seriously intimidated by the students in my Introduction to Aerospace class. The lecture hall seated about 115 mostly male students in a rather small space. I didn’t understand what some of the other students were talking about when they said that they took Physics B and C in high school, until I found out there are actually four different AP Physics courses. I was thinking, “Man, I’m so behind compared to all these other guys. I wasn’t even able to take regular physics in school!” I felt at such a disadvantage without any prior knowledge to fall back on. I was setting sail into uncharted waters!

I really loved how you can use math for literally everything! It was an epiphany, a revelation, a new view of the world!

For the first two weeks of the course, I was completely lost. I only had my math skills to save me…but then physics is mostly math after all. By the third week, I was beginning to understand what the professor was saying mathematically. I began to make sense of the material by using math. When the midterm came, I felt nervous, but ready. When I saw my score, I was shocked to see that I actually did better than many of those students that took Physics B and C in high school. Aside from the exams, I got to build a rocket and a glider! These were fun projects because they required us to understand the boost velocity and terminal velocity behind the rocket; and the flight path angle, predicted lift vs. actual lift, predicted airspeed vs. actually airspeed, lift, drag, and induced coefficients of the glider. I got flustered in that class a few times, but I had great time learning. I remember getting a rush every time I solved a difficult physics problem!

Sharing a room with someone can be pretty nerve racking, but my roommate is not so bad. His name is Carlos and he graduated with me from CVHS. We’ve been friends since freshman year. So far it’s been very laidback living in the dorms; you don’t have to worry about cooking since there’s a dining hall right next to the residence building. The food on campus is quite good. I’ve been to all six of the dining halls on campus and my favorite is Pines. It has the most variety and is well decorated and cozy.

Besides going to class, studying, and eating, there are hundreds of clubs on campus and plenty to do at UCSD! Everything from archery to anime…and if there isn’t a club you like, you can create one. Also, there are concerts that are exclusively for UCSD students and faculty. I hear they’ve had many famous celebrities perform; although, I personally have not attended any concerts because of all the work I have to do. And there are so many other things to explore in the luscious City of San Diego! There are beaches within walking distance, small shops, a mall, and buses to take you to the famous Balboa Park in San Diego or the Civic Center to catch a play! No, I haven’t had time yet to really explore San Diego, but eventually, with some friends and family, I will.

So there you are, a little about my first quarter experiences at UCSD. If anyone has questions, please feel free to ask!