First-Gen Story

Learning with the help of technology

First-Gen Story

I Came to the U.S. at 13 and Now I’m Headed to UC Santa Barbara to Become a Mechanical Engineer. Leslie Marquez is a senior at Alliance Smidt Tech.

I was anxious, nervous and excited. At the age of 13, I was finally going to meet my mother.

I was born in Los Angeles, but raised in Mexico by my grandparents. When I moved to live with my mother in the United States, it was difficult at first. What eased the transition into my new life was my public charter high school—Alliance Susan and Eric Smidt Technology High School.

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Alliance Smidt Tech is a place that opened doors that I never knew existed. A place where I found caring teachers, counselors and peers who helped me learn a brand-new language. A place where I feel comfortable pushing boundaries.

I became an active member of school clubs and attended Advanced Placement classes. As a freshman, I joined my school’s Junior State of America (JSA) club to become a confident public speaker and to work on my English fluency. I practiced my speeches for countless hours—my hard work paid off. My peers chose me to be president and I won the position of director of operations for all JSA chapters in Southern California.

I also took part in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Cadets program. Through the LAPD Cadet program I have trained and mentored recruits and worked with active police officers on a weekly basis. The program emphasizes the importance of physical fitness, it has taught me how to avoid elements of danger, and how to use my voice as an effective communications tool.

One of my greatest aspirations is to attend college. Recently, when I got home from school, my mom handed me a big envelope from UC Santa Barbara. I felt optimistic. As I tore it open, I thought about all of my mom’s sacrifices, I thought about my teachers, my friends, the late nights and the early mornings doing homework—all of it was worth it. UC Santa Barbara invited me to be one of their students. Next year, I will begin my studies to become a mechanical engineer.

I am thankful that Alliance Smidt Tech has been a part of my life. The school is a beacon of hope in a community whose students are not accustomed to attending college; most begin working after high school graduation. My Alliance public charter school is where I have grown, matured, and transformed.  

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