Last month, Joshua Alvarado, a student at South Gate High School in Los Angeles County, received a life-changing surprise during his school’s Career Day. Edison International, the parent company of Southern California Edison, which is one of the largest corporate philanthropic contributors in Southern California, presented him with a $50,000 college scholarship.
As part of Southern California Edison’s scholarship program, Alvarado was one of 30 high school seniors from the company’s service area to receive a college scholarship.
In order to help students pursue a STEM major at the higher educational level, the Edison Scholarship program was developed to help students from underserved community members, such as diverse ethnic groups, people with disabilities, women, low-income and LGBTQ+ populations.
Alvarado, a first generation student, said that having his mother and siblings present with him while being awarded the scholarship was a special and unreal moment for him.
“Now that I’ve been awarded this scholarship, I have a sense of relief. These last six months I was really stressed figuring out how I would pay for college. Having Edison come in and take all those worries off my shoulder is amazing. I’m incredibly thankful to Edison but also my family and especially my mom, who is a single parent of five,” Alvarado said.
Alvarado said that he believes more motivation to obtain a higher education is needed among his Latino community peers. It pains him that in his Latino community, many students feel that they are not qualified for college and that it is not an attainable goal.
Alvarado will be attending Stanford University this fall to become a mechanical engineer and hopes to work for NASA to expand our understanding of the universe. He plans to return to his community and other disadvantaged communities to encourage his peers and future generations to pursue higher education.
CALÓ NEWS interviewed Alvarado to discuss his love of STEM and his bright future.
Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Joshua Alvarado, 18, South Gate, South Gate High School, He/Him, Mexican-American
WHY IS STEM IMPORTANT FOR YOU AND OTHER LATINO STUDENTS?
I think studying STEM is important because it leads to a lot of the higher paying jobs. They are the 1% career path choices like engineers, scientists and researchers. Sometimes these jobs seem out of reach for us depending on the perception that is put on the media, but we have to change that mentality. Looking for opportunities in this career path is a good gateway for that.
WHAT CAREER IN STEM ARE YOU PURSUING AND WHY?
I hope to study and be a mechanical engineer. Looking back, the reasoning behind that is because it started with my father. When I was young, he would take me everywhere with him. He had a van, and he was self-employed and would work as a locksmith and repair cars on the side. Every week he would try to teach me how to do some of those things. My dad would buy broken down car parts, and then he would right away start listing and writing what was broken, what he could fix, what needed to be replaced and when can it be sent out to the specialist.
As time goes on, what was a wreck of a car would slowly become whole again. In the end, the car was fully functional, and he would sell it for good profit. I remember just being amazed and being like, ‘Wow.’ To see that process firsthand of seeing something that was broken to fully fixed was pretty incredible, and I really want to explore that and the aspect of science.
WHAT MAKES YOU STAND OUT FROM OTHER LATINO STEM STUDENTS WHO ARE PURSUING THE SAME CAREER CHOICE?
I want to believe that it’s my passion for the subject. I have no doubt that others would also want to pursue this career path because they like it, and they see what I see in it. I’ve spent most of my life figuring out what I want to be. It clicked for me in middle school while I was in the robotics kids club. I realized how much I loved it and how fun it was. Even though I would get stuck and frustrated, finding that piece that would go together just right put a spark in me. And over the years that sparked kept developing, and I just kept realizing what I liked, what I didn’t like, and just learning my strengths and weaknesses. The reason why I want to take this to the level of space and not just work on earth is because I want to work on satellites and rockets and be sent out in space to learn more about our universe. I think that particular passion in me is unique, and I just want to take that and apply it to whatever I do in the future.
DID YOU HAVE ANY LATINO TEACHERS TEACHING STEM? IF NOT, HOW DOES THAT AFFECT YOU AND OTHER LATINO STUDENTS?
Growing up in South Gate, a vast majority of all my teachers were Latino, especially the ones who taught me about STEM. Definitely all my math and science teachers seem to have some Hispanic background and to me that felt more accessible in a way. I really never got to experience diversity in my community. We do have a few Blacks and Whites and Asians, but the majority was always Hispanic and there was a level of comfort. Knowing that we had the same background made my teachers approachable, and I don’t see that changing depending on the way they look. And that again is just my experience with my teachers in my community.
HAVE YOU BEEN ACCEPTED TO ANY UNIVERSITIES? IF SO, WHICH SCHOOL WOULD YOU LIKE TO ATTEND AND WHY?
Well I have been applying to universities since last year and now that everything has calmed down and cooled over I know which universities I’ve been accepted to. I was accepted to University of California Los Angeles, Berkeley University of California, University of California, San Diego, University of California, Santa Barbara and my four Cal states. In terms of private universities I was accepted to the University of Southern California, Stanford University, University of Virginia, and I was waitlisted for Yale University. But I already made the decision, and I’m choosing Stanford. And the reason why I chose Stanford is that since I was a sophomore, I had started investigating colleges in ways that would suit me best and will better interest me. And I stumbled around Stanford thanks to my older sister, who helped me look at colleges. I realized what a beautiful campus Stanford has and how respected their engineering program is. So, I knew right away that this was my school of choice, I knew that it was the one. So, I’ve been working hard ever since that day, and I’m just happy to be living in it.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO GIVE BACK TO YOUR COMMUNITY?
To me, it’s very important to give back to the community because at least in my case, I have a hard time imagining being where I am today without the support of the people around me. When my father passed away in 2017, it was very hard for us financially. We lost our home, and we became homeless for about a month, and to get back on our feet bit by bit we needed a lot of help from people. With the help of my godparents, they offered us a room. My dad’s family friends offered to help us house hunt, and slowly we started to rebuild our lives, and we finally found a home. A lot of family and friends showed us support in many ways to get our life together and that’s something I’m never going to be able to repay, but that’s something I want to try. I’m just thankful for everything and that’s why I want to give back to the community, and especially now that I’m leaving to Stanford for four years. It’s crazy to think that I’ll be five hours away from everyone who I have a really close relationship with.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER LATINO STUDENTS, WHO WANT TO PURSUE STEM?
The greatest advice that I’ve learned over the years is that you have to start small. All these achievements and scholarships don’t just come to you with being great for one year, it happens slowly over time. You don’t just wake up great one day, you have to build your way up by being good at school, joining clubs, helping the community and in a way building that resume. So, by the time you look back, you’ve accomplished a lot, and you are way higher now than where you were before. It’s like water drops just accumulating.