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Going Into STEM to Help Her Community Heal: This First Gen College Student Has a Plan

Most kids have an idea of what they want to be when they grow up because they saw someone cool have that job on TV, they think the job will make them a lot of money, or they have an artistic passion they hope to turn into a career. For me, though, I know that I want to be a physical therapist serving monolingual Spanish-speaking patients in California.


Why? Because of my experience growing up helping my mom, and because I went to Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary where I learned to be a leader who values her community.


And I know that I will become a great physical therapist because I, unlike my parents and brothers, am going to college. I’ll be attending UC Davis in the fall, majoring in chemistry.


But let me back up. I’m the youngest in a family with four kids and two parents: my mom and dad, who both only completed sixth grade in Mexico before they had to give up their education to work. After immigrating to San Jose, they worked hard to support their kids so that their kids could focus on their education. Unfortunately, my brothers struggled in school and ended up not going to college. My parents wanted something else for me.


In second grade, my cousin started at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy. Not happy with my current elementary school, my mom decided to transfer me over to Rocketship too. Right away, I loved the school – from dancing every morning to learning about science in my STEM block to practicing skills on online learning programs.


But most of all, I remember how I learned to be a leader and value my community. Every day at Rocketship, we talked about our core values that bound us together as a community with a responsibility to help others. In fifth grade, I was part of a student leaders program because I was at the top of my class academically and didn’t get into trouble. This program meant that sometimes instead of going to Learning Lab, I went outside and played with an assigned kindergarten buddy. This really helped me to take on a leadership role and become less shy with others. I remember learning from this program and our core values that my community is bigger than just me.


Those core values stayed with me through middle and high school. At Sacred Heart Nativity School (middle school) and then Downtown College Prep (high school), I led through using my voice to motivate and build confidence in others, trying to create a community of peers to help each other through school.


I also took my love of STEM that I developed at Rocketship into high school where I quickly excelled in science. I took the hardest science classes, often the only sophomore or junior in a room of seniors – and often one of the only girls in the class. At first I was intimidated by what everyone said were really hard classes. But I quickly understood materials that others didn’t and built my confidence in myself as a scientist.


And now I am going to major in chemistry at UC Davis in order to become a physical therapist. See, my dad is a plumber for pools and my mom used to work, but she got hurt on the job five years ago. Since then, she’s been in and out of surgeries, physical therapy, and doctor’s appointments – unable to work. My mother’s injury left a lot of the financial burden on my older brothers, and also meant that she needed a lot of emotional support from me. My mom does not speak English, so I went with her to every single appointment with doctors, surgeons, and physical therapists to translate and help her understand what was happening with her health.


In San Jose, a city with hundreds of thousands of Spanish speakers, every physical therapist we went to only spoke English. If I could not accompany my mom to an appointment, her health care had to find a translator which often delayed appointments for weeks. Having to go to physical therapy is emotionally and physically hard enough as many people are embarrassed of their injuries or struggling to adjust to their new limitations. If someone cannot explain their symptoms and needs to their physical therapist, they may not get the care needed. I want to tear down that barrier.


I am so proud to be the first in my family to go to college – and to go to a top school at that! UC Davis is ranked number one in the country at launching women into STEM careers. Thanks to Rocketship, Sacred Heart, DCP, my family, and soon UC Davis, I know that I will achieve my dreams of becoming a caring, accessible physical therapist who embodies leadership and community to help people like my mom heal.


Guadalupe Basulto is a San Jose native who graduated from Downtown College Prep in June 2019. As the first in her family to go to college, she is heading to UC Davis in the fall of 2019 to major in chemistry.


Published on August 5, 2019

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