As a DACA recipient, Jose Gonzalez's future was very uncertain in high school.
"Higher education was a big question mark for me," he says. "I didn't know what I was going to do, because of my situation."
Then, during Senior Week at his high school, an outreach and school relations representative encouraged Jose to register for Compton College. He wasn't sure where it would get him, but he figured he had nothing to lose.
Jose's goal at Compton College was to become an architect. He had worked with his stepfather, a structural framer, on construction sites, and seeing structures being built piqued his curiosity. But what really got him interested was a teacher in high school who had graduated from Compton College and then joined the Army Corps of Engineers. The teacher became a role model to Jose.
"Someone that came from the same environment, was able to get out, and give back to the community," he says.
When he enrolled at Compton College, Jose was part of a student cohort in the First-Year Experience program- a framework designed to help first-year students form a peer group by taking some of the same classes together-in Jose's case, English and Human Development. The students are able to support each other and create a bond, and help one another get acclimated to the college experience.
Jose was lucky that several members of his FYE cohort had been friends of his in high school. This helped to make the transition from high school to college smoother and made Compton College feel more like a family.
With a goal of becoming an architect, Jose first studied art at Compton College. But after a year and a half, he realized he liked the science aspect more. He started getting into higher math and physics, and ultimately decided to make architecture his official major.
But the road hasn't been easy for Jose. As a DACA recipient, his tuition fees at Compton College were waived, but there were other expenses, from school supplies to transportation and more. However, through Compton College's Extended Opportunity Program and Services (EOPS), he was able to get the financial help he needed, including book discounts, transportation vouchers, and even meal vouchers.
He also had help from the college's STEM Center Specialist Lorena Fonseca, and the Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA) program. Ms. Fonseca provided tremendous support for Jose on his journey.
"She was able to help me with everything and guide me through, every step of the way," he says.
Jose also received help from his teachers. In particular, Dr. Jose Villalobos, who taught him calculus, was a huge inspiration. Much like Jose's teacher in high school who got him interested in architecture, Dr. Villalobos had a very similar background to Jose's. He was from Mexico, moved to the U.S., and went to Compton College. From there, he transferred to California State University, Long Beach and ultimately earned his PhD in mathematics from the University of Southern California. He then came back to Compton College, to give back to the community, and hopefully inspire students just like Jose.
When Jose saw someone from the same place and the same background as him, who had had this success, he knew he could do it too. He ended up taking four different calculus classes from Dr. Villalobos and got to know him really well.
Jose's chemistry instructor, Dr. Cook, was a huge help as well. Not only was he an engaging professor who made classes accessible and interactive, he also looked for ways to help put students at ease. During exams, he would play classical music for the students. By coincidence, Jose also listened to classical music while studying. So, tests felt more like study sessions, and the stress was reduced.
When it came time to transfer to a four-year university, Jose ran into another problem. He couldn't complete the classes required to major in architecture at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) in time for the next semester. So, he switched majors again-this time to civil engineering, for which he had already met all the requirements.
At CSULB, things were different than at Compton College. Everything was bigger and busier. Classes were in lecture halls with more than a hundred other students. Jose was worried he couldn't keep up with the faster pace and felt like he didn't belong.
But then he realized: he had put in the time and effort, and met the requirements to attend this university, just like everyone else. "I earned my place," he thought. So, he made a plan. He took all the things that had worked for him at Compton College and figured out ways to apply those techniques at CSULB.
"I was able to get into my own rhythm and flow," he says. And by applying himself in that way, he was able to succeed at the university level, just as he succeeded at Compton College.
Jose's goal was to get a job as soon as he graduated. To that end, he got an internship with the American Society of Civil Engineers. He even competed in the Concrete Canoe Competition: a research project that involves designing a canoe, fabricating it out of concrete, and racing it against other canoes-along with other structural tests and trials.
In fall 2020, before he even graduated, Jose was able to get a fulltime job. However, his class schedule conflicted with his work hours, causing him to lose the job after a few months. But then, on the final day of his spring semester, Jose was offered another job as an assistant civil engineer. Just a few days later, he started work, and has been there ever since.
Jose works with grading and drainage-making sure residential properties are laid out properly, so that water drains into the sewers, rather than in surrounding properties. He also helps his supervisor with project management. Meanwhile, he's thinking about applying to a master's program next year.
"Compton College feels like home," he said. "It's very nurturing; it's very welcoming. The professors make sure that you know that they're there for you. Anything you need."