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VIDEO: First-generation Cordova High graduate shares her journey to STEM field

Leonor Vega shared her experience of graduating from Cordova High School as a first-generation graduate and plans to attend San Francisco State University in the fall to study mechanical engineering on a scholarship from the Future Foundation of Sacramento.

Vega came to Folsom Cordova Unified School District in the third grade after her family moved from Nevada to Rancho Cordova. She began as a student at White Rock Elementary, and it was there her sixth- grade teacher at the time, the now-retired Glenn Clinton, took notice that she was very good at math and English.

Vega says he became one of her biggest supporters and encouraged her to test for honors classes in middle school. Vega admits prior to that experience in Clinton’s classroom, she wasn’t the best student and didn’t have as much interest in school; but once she was put in honors classes at Mills Middle, and then placed in the Mills STEM Academy in its first year, those experiences opened new doors for her. She felt more challenged and developed a strong interest in STEM that continued on at Cordova High.

At Cordova High, Vega was part of the IB Programme to prepare students for the path of higher education, participated in the Engineering (Polytechnical) Academy overseen by engineering teacher Faith Caplan. Vega said her interest in science and engineering only deepened spending four years at CHS  learning from Caplan.

“Knowing Mrs. Caplan is amazing because she’s also a female in STEM, before she even did teaching, she worked at Intel, a software company and knowing she made it, just motivates me,” said Vega.

Vega was also part of the SMASH Academy program an intensive college prep program through UC Davis for first-generation college-bound students, students that come from low-income families or groups traditionally underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.This experience allowed her to live on campus at UC Davis and take college courses at the university in past summers. In addition, she took advantage of the Educational Talent Search (ETS) program, also through UC Davis that set her up with a mentor each school year to help her take the necessary steps needed to prepare for college.

Vega utilized the resources and programs available to her throughout her education to ensure she’d be college-bound. She said having mentors along the way throughout her education made a difference in what direction she was headed and is excited to pursue the field of mechanical engineering at SF State.

“My parents came from Mexico, they motivate me a lot, they work hard. I’m the first of the first to graduate high school and go to college, it’s exciting. I just want to make them proud,” said Vega.