From Richmond Beginnings to Harvard During a Pandemic

Enrique Romero received his acceptance letter from Harvard Graduate School of Education and was scheduled to start this summer in Cambridge. Now, he is making plans to come back to his hometown of Richmond traveling from Mexico where he has been working for the Fulbright Commission in Mexico City.

Enrique has been part of the Making Waves community since he was in 5th grade, beginning his journey with our after-school program. While schools debate reopening, Enrique now knows his graduate school experience will be virtual. He will study for his Harvard master’s from his childhood home in California, thousands of miles from Massachusetts. Recently, I spent some time catching up with him to see how he is coping during this time of unprecedented uncertainty and to find out what he is most looking forward to.

In his role as Program Officer for the Mexican Graduate Studies programs for the Fulbright Commission in Mexico (COMEXUS), Enrique is helping to create exchanges by supporting Mexican Fulbright recipients pursue their master’s degrees or PhDs in the United States.

Enrique, how did your background – as a child of immigrants from Mexico and a first-generation college student – impact your academic experience?

First, without Making Waves, I am not sure what my educational trajectory might have been. Starting with my opportunity to attend private schools from 6th grade through high school graduation, I learned a lot during this time, including being from a different background from most of my classmates. When I was accepted and attended Pitzer College, I was in less culture shock because of my experience attending private schools. I had experience to draw from with having a different socio-economic situation and cultural background while attending a predominantly white institution. It was difficult, but I persevered, I had to learn to ask for help, and I did.

What elements of the Making Waves program were essential as you prepared for and ultimately completed college?

At first it was hard. With Making Waves, I had to give up four hours every Saturday for the after-school program, on top of its weekly obligations, which meant sacrifices had to be made. My mother had applied for me to attend and was excited for me. Me? I cried. I was scared. I thought to myself “What am I getting myself into.” But my parents were immigrants from Mexico, and this was a path that could provide an opportunity to navigate a good education and my mother knew that. The program also provided parent support, they showed them how to use a computer, how to look at finances, provided parent college counseling sessions. Ultimately, while it was difficult to convince my parents that leaving home and going away to college was the right thing, I had support with having that hard conversation.

Other elements of the program that supported my pursuits included exposure to college tours, tutoring after school, time management skills, help with applications to college, interview preparation and more. Then, once in college, I had CAP coaches for the whole four years. They helped with goal setting each semester, helping me think beyond school about my future, and we had regular calls to help me stay on track.

What are your plans for graduate school?

I am returning to Richmond, California to start my Harvard Master’s degree in Education Policy and Management online. I want to work in education helping advance other low-income students and help them find opportunities. I want to continue to learn about administration but would also like to deepen my understanding of policy work. For my career, I would like to work in some type of program providing opportunities for low-income minority students or closing the gaps within universities. I want to take my Fulbright experience and education to help others – it is all interconnected.

Drawing from your life and career what are your personal lessons for perseverance in the face of adversity?

When I was at the after-school program, I learned the Making Waves Affirmation. Literally they had a prize for memorizing it, so I did. Having a sense of perseverance, a positive attitude, and a commitment to recycling my success – these stayed with me.

What advice do you have for recent college graduates, especially considering the pandemic?

Don’t get overwhelmed. And go outside your comfort zone.

Do not limit yourself or your opportunities because of fear. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Not only will you learn about yourself, but you may also discover something new you’re passionate about.

Enrique romero (excerpt from Making Waves 30/30 Anniversary book)