Tag Archives: first generation

Transferring to Stanford Q&A – A student’s perspective

12 Jan

Hi! If you’re here because of this tweet, welcome!

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Feel free to read more about me in the About page but a brief intro:

I’m a senior at Stanford University majoring in CS in the AI track. I’m also a transfer student (transferred from a Cañada Community College). I’m Latinx, first-gen, and nontraditional (over 25) and a mom to three girls.

To start off PLEASE APPLY. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Every single one of us thought we wouldn’t get in because our year the acceptance rate was <2%. Pero aqui estoy!

To share information as much as possible I will list Q&A from DM’s resulting from the tweet above. While I wish everyone well, I am concentrating my efforts in increasing the number of Latinx, Black, Native American, first-gen / low income community college transfers. I respectfully ask that you not DM me on the process for grad school or frosh app (no idea). Follow me @susanabenavidez and DM me your questions.

Let’s begin! I will share the questions I’ve received and answers I provide. Please note that my answers do not in any way represent Stanford nor are legal advice nor are to be taken as official instructions of any kind. Names are removed and questions are edited for clarity.

Q. How do I event start the application process?

A. Here’s a checklist from Stanford detailing exactly what you need to submit for your application.

Q. Can I afford it?

A. I can’t answer this question for you but I can share that Stanford has been incredibly generous with me and many of the transfer students that I know. I got into UC Berkeley – you can read about that here and the financial package I got meant I had to pay several thousands of dollars even though I qualified for financial aid with a low family contribution. When I got into Stanford – you can read about that moment here I didn’t respond. It wasn’t until the transfer director contacted me to see what was going on. I told her I was waiting on financial aid because I couldn’t commit without knowing what I would owe. She checked and I got my FA letter almost immediately.

I almost screamed when I saw the generous $$$ scholarship they awarded me. It was like they made it so I couldn’t say no. My youngest was 4 months old when I started and they even provided me with a daycare stipend. It obviously doesn’t cover all of my expenses as I have a big family but it covers enough to give me peace of mind.

See here for official information from Stanford about cost / aid estimates.

Q. Do they accept transfer students out of California?

A. Yes! My transfer class had students from all over the US and an international student from Singapore.

Q. Hi Susana – I’m considering CS at Stanford!. I’m already a self-taught developer but I want to go back to school. My biggest obstacle is that I’m undocumented and low income. I’m not sure where I can find resource for my specific case. Any tips, would be much appreciated. 🙂

A. I emailed financial aid and will report back what they say (didn’t give any identifying information)

“Hi Susana, Stanford treats undocumented students as US domestic students in the undergraduate admission process, assessing their applications under the same need-blind admission policy it uses for citizens of the United States. Stanford will use institutional funds to meet the full demonstrated financial need of undocumented students who are admitted. Please share our Undocumented Student webpage with your friend and let him know that he is welcome to call our office if he has any concerns.

Our number is 650-723-3058.

Financial Aid Officer Montag Hall, 355 Galvez Street Stanford, CA 94305-6106 | T 650.723.3058”

Here is the link to the Undocumented Student webpage: financialaid.stanford.edu/undergrad/how/

Q. I received several questions that asked for general advice. I mean many of us are first-gen students and didn’t receive the guidance on how to apply to schools or that Stanford even takes transfers.

“I’m a second year (first born and gen) student at —- college and I wasn’t planning on transferring anywhere until 2021 as a —— student. I honestly never considered Stanford until I came across your tweet! I need all the orientation I could get so I was wondering if you had some pointers that I could work on for during this next year! Thank you sm.”

A. What I did:

JOURNAL Your Accomplishments:

I kept notes of everything I was involved in and did outside of academic school work:
  • Approach professors to take their honors course – some offer a contract you sign and you just have to do extra work and a research paper – apply to symposiums at Berkeley and Stanford to present your research – your counselor should have this info
  • I was a single mom so I added everything I do as a parent on top of working full time and going to school
  • I volunteered at startup orgs showing that my interest in entrepreneurship was tangible
  • I started a social media group for parents that grew into a building a new school effort, served as advertising for the Chamber of Commerce to attract families, and resulted in networking that got me my first business development job
  • I worked up the ladder in business development and highlighted my leadership position at a prestigious firm
  • I had community organizing experience, freelance writing, and showed how much I grew and survived while thriving. It’s hard to remember everything if you don’t take notes in a journal.

Your accomplishments don’t have to look like mine. The transfer class for my year was incredibly diverse and ran the gamut of life experiences. That’s the point. Stanford wants to attract a diverse community of students.

Q. How did you structure your personal statement?

A. My personal statement told a story that went something like this:

  • who I was + where I started
  • the trauma / struggles that defined my early ‘failure’
  • how I took that failure and let it motivate my next moves
  • my commitment to higher education + equality of education (my focus is edtech / CS + Social Good)
  • highlighted the turn from where I was to what I did to accomplish -> highlighted the biggest and most impressive accomplishments
  • how I would leverage my time at Stanford to reach my goals (for me, a startup in edtech / social good space)

That’s sort of the short story of how I approached my personal statement. I would share it except that my essay was deeply personable, emotionally raw, and describes trauma / abuse that I don’t want to share here quite yet.

But the higher level approach I took was – what do I have that others don’t? Why am I impressive? I took the little that life gave me as a start and turned it into mother effin magic.

Let me illustrate my point via a couple of pictures:

candAvB

ladders

Highlight the Upward Trend of your Life that demonstrates sustained growth.

How do you respond to ‘failure’? I’ve had many challenges in my life. ‘Failure’ is hard, really hard. Most people give up, settle, crumble under failure. Others take that failure, learn from it, pivot and take off to their potential. Be the latter. 

failure

In other words, I wasn’t the ‘perfect’ candidate given the early ‘failures’ in my life. But I definitely demonstrated resilience and the ability to not run away from my problems or the shame that comes with them. I owned what happened to me as well as the decisions I made. I spoke about the motivations in my life for a better life and Not Giving Up (for me my little girls). And I showed what a badass I am by letting them see the growth from where I started and what I accomplished with the little I had.

Q. Did you do any research as a community college student?

Q. What is campus life like?

A. I feel like you have to ask someone else on what it’s like as a 20 yo but from my very unique experience:

The first year was tough. It can feel incredibly isolating when you are a nontraditional student and don’t feel like you belong. I joined and took on leadership positions at Women in CS and Society of Latinx Engineers. This helped somewhat. I also took several creative writing courses and that was a great way to meet friends as the classes are tiny (~8 students v. the hundreds in my CS classes).

Eventually I worked through the belief and voice that told me I didn’t belong and worked on carving out spaces for me on campus.

Last year and this year have been incredible socially. I feel like I have friends wherever I go and I very much feel like Stanford is home.

I have done so much while on campus, the opportunities are incredible:

  • Did the Levinthal Tutorial, a 1:1 class with a Stegner Fellow and read one of my short stories to a large audience. I’ve never shared outside of small workshopping.
  • Was a Seeds of Change cohort leader where I went through Stanford’s Women’s Executive Leadership program and taught similar concepts to high school girls interested in STEM
  • Member of CS + Social Good where I took the incredible CS51/52 two quarter course where we ideated, prototyped, and then built a product as a solution posed by an edTech partner
  • Summer CS + Social Good Fellow where I interned at a tiny but powerful edTech startup. I grew so much as an engineer – I had to – I was the 2nd engineer on staff!
  • WiCS and SOLE: Met so many companies that I recruited to come speak to our members, including some very cool CEOs that I really admire
  • Moderated an event with Ellen Pao A Conversation with Ellen K. Pao, tech investor and advocate, the former CEO of reddit, and a cofounder of the award-winning diversity and inclusion nonprofit Project Include
  • Took the novel writing class and have a draft (very rough) of my first novel!
  • Presented my research at the Latinx in AI workshop at NeurIPS last month in Vancouver
  • Forged incredible relationships with CS professors that I deeply admire
  • Met my co-founder!
  • Interned at Y Combinator and Thunkable, a YC Company
  • El Centro for Friday Cafecito (Mexican sweet bread + hot chocolate / sometimes atole or champurrado YUM!)

I know I’m forgetting a lot. But you get the point, if you leverage the resources there is so much to do!

 

Dancing Between Borders

12 May

We linger on either side
Dancing between invisible borders
Split in two

The English me
At work
Speaks formally, taking time to enunciate and think ahead
Choosing my vocabulary carefully
So as not to Stumble and fall

The Spanish me
At functions
Takes care to speak eloquently
Proving myself as not just
Getting by

Hiding
Hoping they don’t ask
Where is your accent from?

The English me
With friends
Is casual, relaxed and at ease
Sassy, funny and bold

The Spanish me
With my sisters
Bursts forth
Words spilling over each other
Hanging in the air
Like bright decorations
Warming my soul

I am me
I am Susana
Fitting in nicely

We waltz between borders
Stepping gingerly
Lingering long enough to feel like we belong
Stepping gingerly
Before we’re caught

La Migra

1 Sep

We went out to the Geffen MOCA and dinner with AM and her boys on Thursday evening.  As we settled down with our sushi and rambunctious kiddos, we started talking shop, as AM fondly refers to it.

A year had passed since I changed careers, a career that she so generously recommended me for and positioned me perfectly for.  In a year I had learned that this was the perfect vehicle for my ambition, hard worth ethic, and all around personality of a control freak. 🙂  I had just received a promotion and she wondered how I came to possess the professionalism, poise, and ability to navigate and distinguish myself while working at a high-powered law firm and coming from Boyle Heights with my highest education being at Roosevelt HS  no less (a school whose distinction includes being featured in the documentary Waiting for Superman as an educational fail factory).

As far as my work ethic, that’s easy I told her, I get it from my mother.  She taught me that you can reach whatever you want as long as you are willing to work hard enough for it.  And she certainly lead by example, always holding two jobs when we were growing up so she could achieve her dream of being a homeowner.

But as far as poise and the “intuitive knowledge required in marketing” that she kindly stated I possessed, in a way that came from my mother as well…

When I was a kid I had a neighbor who for lack of a nicer term was a bona fide pocha.  Her ancestors were of Latino descent but the Spanish, customs, and any semblance of pride or relatable qualities to them had long ago been stomped out.  She had learned a strong dislike towards anyone with an accent, anyone who ate carne asada and tortillas, anyone who spent summers in Mexico, anyone like me.

A combination of niceness, ability to forgive, and low self-esteem kept making me forgive her and be subject to her constant pranks.

My parents would not allow us to play outside of the chain link fence that surrounded the perimeter of our home so we would play with our Barbies through the holes of this wall that separated us.  Joanna would excuse herself and go off to get her Barbie Malibu car and I would keep combing the hair on my dolls.  Then a shreeking siren with a piercing pitch would fill my eyes with terror and send me sprinting to the backyard.  I would deftly pull all of the dirty linen from  the laundry bin and jump inside, pulling the musty smelling sheets on top of me.  I would lay there huddled in a fetal position immobilized with fear until it dawned on me that she had done it again.  I would break out in a cold sweat as relief and anger would hit me and spread throughout my body in a glistening sheen, the anxiety oozing out of my pores.

I would take a deep breath and walk back to my side of the fence where the cackle of Joanna’s laughter would be ringing in my ears long after it had died down.  I would pick up my toys without a word and stand up to walk away.  “You’re not mad are you?  I was just joking, you should have seen how scared you were!!! Hahahaha!”  I couldn’t utter a word or the tears welling in my eyes would come crashing down stripping me of any dignity that I had left.

My mother was smuggled into the U.S. as a child using someone else’s identity.  She remembers these poignant events in her mind as if they were yesterday.  She still laments having to cut her beautiful waist length hair up to her ears so she could match the passport’s picture of the girl she was usurping.  And when she recalls working in the factories that were the constant target of immigration raids in the 70’s, her eyes glaze over and I have to shake her to bring her back and out of her painful past.

She was 14 and worked at a curtain manufacturing factory as a seamstress’ assistant in downtown Los Angeles.  She would work two shifts, from five in the morning to nine or ten in the evening.

The terrible sound of the siren broke through the monotony of their work and the constant humming of the sowing machines and hissing of the steamer were replaced with frantic cries of “La Migra!!”

Chaos everywhere as people ran into each other, running up and down the stairs, crawling out the windows, but bodies everywhere being slammed against the wall my ICE, the immigration agents thugs that swept throughout the halls with snarling excited dogs ready to attack.

Someone pushed her into an armoire and piled curtains on top of her and she lay there immobile, waiting for the wails to die down into a whimper and the silence that followed.  Her heart thumping sounded so loud and ominous that she thought there were heavy footsteps heading towards her.  Her heart stopped and absolute silence filled her body as she heard the dog barking at the door, clawing to get in and claim its prize.  The doors were swung open and light fell on her face as she stared right into a snapping dog, the breath sour in her face.  As sudden as it was there it was gone and the ICE agent looked straight into her eyes, deep down into her soul, and he must have seen a skinny bony kid who stood at 4’11” terrified out of her mind.  She heard someone call out “All Clear?!” and she closed her eyes, ready to be yanked out with the hundred others that were detained outside.  But she was enclosed in darkness instead and thought, Am I dead?  She lay there for what seemed like hours before her bones and limbs ached so badly that she had to move before she would be unable to.

She walked out, through the eerily quiet hallways and out into the evening light where everyone went about their business as usual.  Somehow she found herself home and surrounded by her siblings and worried parents.  They had been calling around the neighborhood, fearing her in Tijuana, MX, wandering along with the other lost living ghosts that walk up and down the border.

My mother had many stories like these, and I took them on as warning to never trust the siren, to fear it, for it meant that it would break me away from my loved ones and turn me into the walking dead along the border.

When I was old enough to realize that this siren could no longer harm me (my parents eventually became U.S. residents through the Bush administration’s amnesty), I realized that the simple fact that I had been born in U.S. soil exempted me from this fear of being flicked away from this country.  By then I had learned to adapt so that I would appear to belong.  I spent hours memorizing the pages of the dictionary, practicing the sentences, trying to decipher the pronunciation, so that no one could identify me as not belonging to U.S. soil.

As I became a teenager, I learned that the more I assimilated, both in posture and confidence, the easier it was to camouflage my brown skin and blend into the background.  What AM thought was intuitive poise and the confidence to succeed was pure survival skills bourne from the need to adapt and go unnoticed.

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