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Giant Lizards and the Path to College

What do giant lizards from thousands of years ago and an immigrant kid from San Jose have in common? A path to a better life in college and beyond.


How, you may ask? Let me explain.


“What is true for life itself is no less true for the universe: knowing where you came from is no less important than knowing where you are going.”  Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote these words in 2003 when I was about 4-years-old. Now that I am 18 and in my first year of college, I understand these words not only in the context of the history of our planet (I am a big paleobiology nerd), but also in the context of my own life. You see, as a minority student from a low-income community, I am identified as unlikely to graduate high school, much less go to college. For my family, staying afloat in the present was always the primary concern, and at first I did not have the privilege of college being part of the expected future trajectory for me. Until, that is, I came to Rocketship.


Since I was a little kid I’ve been fascinated by dinosaurs and ancient animals. Consider this, millions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed our planet. I remember learning about these lizards for the first time and being amazed. but I never thought that interest could become a career. It wasn’t until elementary school at Rocketship that I found the confidence in myself and the ability to see college as a reality that I knew I could connect my interest in paleobiology to my future.  Looking back, I realize that all those teachers in elementary school who encouraged my curiosity for learning, were all a part of those past events that connected to change and propel my future trajectory.


I came to Rocketship Mateo Sheedy in the fall of 2007 as a third grader in the very first class of Rocketeers. We crammed into a church, danced every morning, and together figured out what it meant to start a school from scratch. For me, it took a while to settle in and allow myself to start building connections. But once I did, I found inspiring teachers like Mr. Nadeau who invested in me inside and outside of school. Mr. Nadeau’s and others’ encouragement and candor helped me improve upon myself as a student and as a human. Rocketship taught me to keep my head high, even during times that look bleak. I think that this attitude helped me to push past my rocky middle school start to rise to be one of the smartest kids in the class. Keeping my head high helped me stand up for the ideas I developed in high school and stick by my decisions. The challenges I faced at Rocketship served to help me develop as a student and as an individual. The choices I made have created the person I am today.


And today, I’m a college student – a freshman at Bowling Green State University. I found the school my sophomore year after researching schools that offered paleobiology as a major. For my career, I want to focus on field work and hands on experience on dig sites, and also with the fossils themselves. I am so excited to continue to use explore the lives of the giant lizards I once dreamed of as I work in this field.


My interest in paleobiology, my acceptance to college, and my success in middle and high school would not have been possible without Rocketship and my family. My dad, Oscar, works in construction as a day laborer and my mom, Silvia, works as a lunch lady at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy. My brother is technically the first in our family to attend a university, though I am still part of the first generation that is heading towards higher education. And my younger sister attended Rocketship after me.


My parents are really excited about college and having their children achieve their dreams and escape the cycle of poverty. Still, they are really nervous, especially in regards with me. My mom is worried about me living so far away and my father had a conversation with me about how our economic situation makes it hard for him to help us out with money. My family is struggling to maintain its economic footing just as so many minority communities are, specifically in the Bay Area where housing costs have exploded. But I know that I am prepared for a better future and that I will help my family to find one too.


So now that I am here, a college freshman, is the struggle over? Of course not. Far from it. But understanding my past, reflecting on all the events and people who’ve changed my trajectory, and connecting that to the biological history of our universe is both fascinating, humbling and extremely motivating to me. The quest to discover where and how things began has given me a special perspective on the future. With my Rocketship experience shaping me into a college student, and someday college graduate, I will keep my head up, persevere, and rise into a better life. “What is true for life itself is no less true for the universe: knowing where you came from is no less important than knowing where you are going.”


Carlos Martinez attended Rocketship Mateo Sheedy from 2007-2010 and is a freshman at Bowling Green State University.

Published on November 28, 2017

Read more stories about: Education Reform, Student Experience.