From prison cells to the study of cells
September 25, 2021
Growing up, Alberto “Beto” Vasquez’s focus was survival. San Diego’s Logan Heights area, his hometown, was besieged by gangs, violence and drugs. Raised by a single mother who worked 12-hour days and lacking other role models, he found his place among the neighborhood’s destructive distractions.
If you knew Vasquez then, you probably wouldn’t recognize the community-minded person he’s developed into today. Over the last decade, he’s overcome homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, and stints in Juvenile Hall and state prisons.
Now, he’s on track to getting a doctoral degree to pursue a career as a community college professor and administrator. His long-term aim, he says, is to ramp up diversity in the sciences and help those who are at-risk or disadvantaged strive for better.
And it’s for those reasons FE Small Business Finance awarded Vasquez in 2012 an Arthur H. Goodman scholarship, which continues to have a lasting impact on him today. The annual award honors standout, service-focused women and minorities transitioning from community college to four-year institutions in California or Arizona.
As FE approaches its 40th anniversary as an organization, we’ve set out to raise $40,000 in scholarships to help an even greater number of students like Vasquez with their university costs.
As part of this effort, we’re revisiting the San Diego native’s self-proclaimed “cells to cells” journey — as in his passage from prison cells to studying cells as a science academic and advocate for minorities entering the fields of STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math.
Want to donate to FE’s scholarship fund? Jump to the bottom of the page for full details.
‘I had to learn to be a student again’
In late 2007, Vasquez stepped onto the San Diego City College campus feeling like he was walking on foreign land. He was older than most students and shouldered the weight of his past.
“I had to learn to be a student again,” Vasquez said.
What kept him going strong was the fact his financial aid was tied to staying out of trouble. He also realized a formal education was his best means out of the vicious cycle of crime and imprisonment.
Vasquez’s pledge to community service was driven by his mission to stand out among his peers — but this time, for the right reasons. When you’re starting a new life with built-in disadvantages, he said, “you have to go that extra percentage.”
He founded a massive clean-up effort in his neighborhood of Logan Heights, mentored Latino men recovering from alcohol and drug abuse, and gave back to the community-college district as an active student leader. And that’s just a partial list of his accolades from his community-college years.
The joy he derives from serving others, he says, “was a reawakening.”
In 2011, Vasquez’s grades and avid volunteerism earned him entry into UC San Diego’s undergraduate biology program. With the help of an Arthur H. Goodman scholarship, he was able to lighten his work commitments, allowing him to balance time between school and his wife and children.
“I was ecstatic,” said Vasquez, on his reaction to getting the scholarship. “I felt like I had something to offer.”
Related: FE scholarship supports ‘Wonder Woman’ scholar
Standing up for at-risk, underrepresented groups in the classroom
His experience at UC San Diego was not without its challenges. The biology coursework was challenging and the father of four constantly felt out of place as an older, first-generation student.
Vasquez entertained thoughts of quitting. But he kept pressing on. What motivated him was the mission to help more Latinos and other underrepresented groups enter the math and science fields. By obtaining advanced degrees, he figured he could position himself to becoming a professor and community-college administrator so he can inspire change from within.
Vasquez has already ticked off two of those boxes. He’s currently pursuing his doctoral degree and is set to teach a community-college level biology course in an upcoming school term.
Related: Arthur H. Goodman Scholarship Recipient Overcame Street Violence to Reach UC Berkeley
He also works at UC San Diego’s CREATE — or Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence. Here, he’s using the school’s resources to create educational opportunities for all, with a focus on increasing diversity in the sciences.
Vasquez continues to be active in the community. Most recently, the city of San Diego proclaimed Sept. 12 “Alberto ‘Beto’ Vasquez Day” in recognition of his work in and around the city; he presently serves on the city’s gang prevention commission.
He says receiving the Arthur H. Goodman scholarship played a key role in helping him get to where he is now and expressed his gratitude to the scholarship committee.
“It is because of folks like you that that lives can be changed not only directly but also indirectly in the impact that the lives that you touch will have rippling effects on others,” he said.
Invest in a bright future: Donate to FE’s scholarship fund
In light of FE Small Business Finance’s 40th anniversary scholarship drive, he issued this challenge to potential donors:
“I’d like to personally challenge you all right now to reach into your heart as well as your pocket to be able to support individuals like myself — individuals that have no hope, individuals that have been left alone and without support. Become that support for them to be that change that we want to see.”
Help us reach $40K in donations
Are you interested in supporting students like Alberto “Beto” Vasquez? Invest in a bright future by contributing to our scholarship drive. Our board has already contributed $11,000 to the fund. With your help, we can hit $40,000 — a goal set to celebrate FE’s 40th anniversary.
By Check: Make checks payable to The San Diego Foundation and mail them to “Attn: Donations” at 2508 Historic Decatur Rd., Ste. 200, San Diego, CA 92106. Include “Goodman Endowment #4072” on the memo line.
By Credit Card: Call (619) 235-2300 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday with credit card in hand. Please reference Fund #4072. A credit card transaction fee of 3.5% will apply.
Want to learn more about the scholarship? Visit FE’s scholarship page for details. Or contact Robert Villarreal, head of the scholarship committee, at email@example.com or (619) 243-8652.
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