OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

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Living the American Dream

Marcos Zavala

Computer Science
Class of 2014
10/15/12
 

Marcos ZavalaMy father went to school for three days in his entire life.

Not three days a week. Three days total.

Yet he learned to read, write and speak English on his own. And although he didn’t have the chance to go to school, education is a core value for him and my mother.

My parents have sacrificed a lot for me to be where I am today — a student at Oregon State University majoring in computer science. I am still in the process of meeting my educational goals but wouldn’t have made it this far along if it weren’t for their support and the scholarships that I have received.

Our family lived in La Calera, Guanajuato in Mexico, a small farming village. But because it was a poor community with not a lot of opportunities to make a living, dad worked on farms in the U.S. from the time he was 15 years old, coming home to Mexico for just two months out of the year. My mom raised my four siblings and me nearly single-handedly, until dad was able to get authorization to move us to Oregon in 2000 when I was 10.

Finding Motivation
I wasn’t a serious student and did just enough to get average grades in high school. I thought getting a high school diploma was good enough and didn’t have any aspirations of going to college, despite my parents’ prodding.

That is, until the summer after my sophomore year, when my parents made me work in the fields picking berries and weeding. That was hard work, laboring under the hot sun. And that was all the convincing I needed to continue my education beyond high school.

I started my educational journey at Chemeketa Community College where I earned two associates degrees. In my first year, I received a College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) scholarship, which not only provided funding, I was also assigned a mentor who helped me navigate the ins and outs of college. People may not realize it, but as a first-generation college student, it’s a challenge to know how everything works: how to register for classes, how to apply for scholarships, how to deal with finances.

Maintaining Balance
This fall begins my senior year at OSU, and I have been paying for college by working at school and at a retail store in Woodburn on weekends so I can spend time with my family, who live nearby in Hubbard. My parents have also been helping to pay for tuition and, despite their objections, I have taken out some loans.

I’m really thankful that this year I have been awarded a $2,000 Edith McDougall scholarship that will allow me to quit my weekend job so I can concentrate on my studies. Maintaining a balance between family, work and education is very difficult and therefore I am truly honored to have this scholarship. Opportunities like this allow students like me to exploit their knowledge to the maximum and simply focus on school and accomplish our biggest long-term goals.

The Future
I just completed a six-month MECOP (Multiple Engineering Cooperative Program) internship at Intel, where I worked on automating the testing of wireless network cards. Currently, testing is mostly done by hand, and my work will allow computers to do the testing, saving a lot of time and money. This has been a great experience and I’m looking forward to my second MECOP internship next summer!

When I look back on my family history, it’s amazing where I stand today. My parents didn’t have a lot. Despite my dad’s lack of a formal education, he now manages a farm in Hubbard. He’s a huge inspiration to me. And if he made it that far, why shouldn’t I be able to go even further?

To not would be to throw my parents’ hard work away.