How My Teacher’s Discouragement Didn’t Stop Me From Getting to UCLA

I never imagined myself avoiding science classrooms…I loved science. But nowadays, unless I’m giving a campus tour, you won’t see me at UCLA’s Court of Sciences. My dreams changed. Today, I want to make sure students aren’t shunned away from their dreams by their teachers like I was.

My first year in high school was tough. I found myself struggling to grasp math and science as easily as I did in middle school. I never left a classroom understanding the lesson I had listened to for the past hour. I didn’t give up. Instead, I pushed out of my comfort zone to work even harder. I studied hard and asked friends to tutor me. My efforts paid off, I managed to keep my grades at an A each semester.

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Credit: Bernardette Pinetta

My struggle didn’t go unnoticed by teachers. When I mentioned how I wanted to do something in science and math because I really liked both subjects one of them responded, “It’s one thing to like math and another thing to be good at it.” My heart sank.

For the first time, I stopped trying. I stopped looking to my teachers for help. I waited until the last minute to study. It didn’t make sense to me to give something my full effort if I wasn’t being supported. My math grade dropped a D…and my parents blamed it on having a boyfriend.

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Credit: Bernardette Pinetta

The disappointment in their eyes and voice reminded me of why I had worked so hard before. I remember the sacrifices they made and the physical and mental suffering they endured to give my sister and me a better chance. I had to do something.

I retook tests and started studying again. By the end of the year, I got A+ both semesters. This made me look forward to college and the opportunity to study math and science there…but I could still hear that teachers words in my mind.

College wasn’t better.

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Credit: Bernardette Pinetta

Professors would begin their introductions by saying two-thirds of us would fail. Each time I struggled I thought, “Maybe he was right; maybe I’m just not good enough. Maybe I’m part of those two-thirds.”

I changed my major to political science after barely passing a chemistry class. I also focused on mentoring high school students. That, along with my love for increasing access to higher education for marginalized students and improving the quality of education received in low-income areas, drove me to pick up an Education Minor.

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Credit: Bernardette Pinetta

When I learned about the systematic oppression that keeps students from going into STEM fields, my experience finally made sense. I saw myself in the students I worked with through UCLA’s Early Academic Outreach Program, students with such high potential being told that they wouldn’t amount to much because of the stigma attached to their background.

It ends with me. I’m here. I will provide motivation…and the biggest surprise, is it’s a two-way street. These high school students give me inspiration to not give up, regardless of the obstacles placed in my way.

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Credit: Bernardette Pinetta

The need for education advocates in communities like mine keeps me focused on my studies. For the students I work with who wish to go to STEM fields, I tell them that it will be difficult, but if they are passionate and have that desire to be in those careers, there’s no way they won’t make it.

I never went back to my science major, not because of the discouragement I received, but because I have a newfound passion in education. I’m also happy to say that the last science class I took at UCLA I earned an A, because this time I didn’t give up.

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