We are excited to announce the Winter Semester winner of our $500 academic scholarship, Rafael Valdovinos, a student at Allan Hancock College. Learn more about his proudest achievements and academic and career goals.
In early adulthood, I vacillated between academic achievement, gang culture, addiction, and incarceration. Over the last decade, I have been restored through recovery, education, and relationships. Most influential in my decision to return to school was my teenage daughter's multiple suicide attempts. After her last release from a Mental Health Facility, she came to live with me, and we began her journey in recovery. During that journey, we began working towards her future. To prompt her interest in furthering her education, I volunteered to enroll with her at Allan Hancock College (AHC). My original trajectory of study when first attending AHC as a high school student in 1997 was either to be a Math Teacher or a Sociology Major due to my experiences as a young man.
Early on, I found comfort in the consistency and security of Math from a world colored by fear. The fear of an abusive father and an unsafe environment. In high school, it was a sociology teacher who was able to reach through the darkness, offering insight and perspective. While meeting with several Psychologists, searching for help for my daughter, I noticed a need for professional helpers from different backgrounds and cultures. The more I learned about Psychology and the Human Services at AHC the more I realized that these educational pathways line up with my life experiences and passion. Those who have been a light in my life have helped me find my light to shine in the darkness.
My academic and career goals are to receive an education to be of maximum service to people and our overall community. I intend to achieve this goal by earning a Masters Degree in Social Work and Licensure with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS). I aspire to work in the field of Mental Health, Addiction, and Incarceration. I believe these demographics are pools of untapped resources of people who have something to offer our world. My current plan is to complete an Associates' Degree for Transfer in Psychology in the Spring of 2021. I will then dual enroll in a Bachelor's Program at Brandman University.
I will continue enrollment at Allan Hancock College (AHC) where I will concurrently complete an Associates' Degree in Human Services Addiction Studies in the Fall of 2021 and a Certificate in Co-occurring Disorders in the Spring of 2022. Completing these Associates and Certificate programs will prepare me to work in the field while completing my Bachelor's and Master's programs. Before 2017, I had multiple attempts at AHC but due to an active addiction was unable to remain consistent. I have been in recovery for over a decade and attending AHC consistently since Fall 2017. I have been a Full-time student since the Spring of 2020. With weeks left in the Fall 2020 semester, I am on track to complete 78 units and with straight A's raise my GPA from 3.90.
I have learned that you cannot pass on something you don't have. The intention of volunteerism is to offer something. For me, it is to offer a small part of myself, my hope, and my belief for a positive future. This offering starts with self-care. I must be aware of my own condition if I am to have something to offer the people I serve. I am also careful to hold them with esteem in the light of their own empowerment. I believe in the people I serve and want to transmit that message in my interaction with them.
I have spent 7 years going to Los Prietos Boys Camp on a monthly basis to talk to the young men out there about my life experiences, what it was like, what happened and what it's like now. Most recently I have been going to Lompoc Federal Penitentiary every other Thursday for the last two years. Now with the transition in full-time student status, I hold a leadership position in the Beyond Incarceration Greater Education Club and work as a peer mentor/tutor for the Beyond Barriers Re-entry Grant.
My involvement has taught me that leadership consists of being a support to empower people to achieve their potential. Everyone has something to offer. A good leader supports his organization to tap into that potential both in word and action, most often through modeling the example. Leadership is about empathy and empowerment. Foundational principles of which are positive regard, vulnerability, communication, and compassion.
I am in a fledgling club whose mission is to help students who identify as system-impacted. Involvement in the club gave me confidence to join the college honor society. I help increase community members' awareness and success in college by providing introductions to resources, college life skills, and peer support. I developed a meeting format for bi-weekly meetings.
I have developed an email list, and a bi-weekly newsletter, to keep our more than 40 club members connected and informed. Many of our members are older adults and employed during school hours. Newsletters help them to stay connected and know that they belong in the college community. Additionally, I created a club directory to allow students the opportunity to introduce themselves, reach out for support, and make themselves available to their peers. Students are to offer a short paragraph about who they are, what their experience has been, and how they can help.
The purpose is to create a safe space where community members can transition slowly to become successful students. Additionally, I am available two days a week on campus in a room that provides social distancing, computer, internet, printer access, and one on one tutoring, or support. With this unprecedented pandemic being available for in-person support has been a refuge since our members struggle with both access to technology and technology skills.
Results of this three-semester endeavor, thus far, have been: services provided to dozens of individuals preventing them from dropping classes; better grades; access to peer mentoring; and authentic caring relationships from students once in "their shoes". With the recent changes in the legislature regarding sentencing practices and prison overcrowding, formerly incarcerated students need more support than ever. Projects such as ours not only provide students an academic community they can call "home" at college but an opportunity for me to be of service.
I model the experience of growth, having been an angry, destructive young man, and a victim of police violence, education and empathy have empowered me to be open-minded, vulnerable, and ultimately change. I now understand that those officers were human beings afraid for their safety, with families they wanted to go home to. I will educate and stand for the innate value of humanity in us all. We must model that in a way that honors everyone regardless of perspectives or behavior.
I will offer acceptance, with unconditional positive regard not with a need for power and control. My goals are to continue to learn about systemic injustice concerning both sides of the issues, continue to learn about leadership, to participate in the conversations, model it in my places of employment, and lobby towards being an agent of policy change.
Interested in applying to our scholarship? Learn more about our requirements and apply today.