Alejandro Meza remembers what it was like first setting foot on the campus at Cañada College. He graduated from Woodside High School in 2009 and then served in the military before returning home with a desire to study engineering. But Meza was the first person in his family to attend college and he didn’t know how to start or proceed through the higher education system.
“My first experience in college was like being on a roller coaster,” he said. “I was totally committed to college and my parents were supportive from the first day but, like many students, I didn’t know how to navigate the college system.”
That’s when he learned about Cañada’s Beating the Odds Peer Mentorship Program and met Marija Stevanovic, his new peer mentor. “The program introduced me to other students, staff, and programs at the college,” he said. “By meeting with my mentor every so often, I understood how to organize my school schedule, access tutoring services in subject areas where I needed academic help, and become connected with the larger college community.”
Patricia Guevarra, the program services coordinator overseeing the program, said students participating in Beating the Odds learn about campus resources, tutoring, important deadlines, financial aid, student organizations and clubs, how to transfer to four-year colleges, and more. “Our primary focus is to increase retention and persistence rates while providing a positive and successful transition for first generation students,” she said. “We know that when students feel like they are part of the campus community they are more likely to succeed.”
Jesus Baca has been a peer mentor in the program since its inception. “Beating the Odds is a great way to start your Cañada College experience. It is a great way to socialize with other students and get help from peers who have been through similar struggles.”
Baca said the program helped him transform into a student leader. “It has helped me learn that I want to help people and that I want to be surrounded by students with similar interests. This is a great way to get know other students and become involved.”
Today, Meza has transitioned from a wide-eyed freshman with more questions than answers to a peer mentor helping other students in the program. “The best thing about Beating the Odds is working alongside a team of mentors,” he said. Peer mentors at Cañada have organized student success and academic workshops, cultural potlucks, turkey drawings, fun runs, and other events. “I am proud to be part of Beating the Odds and helping to organize events that benefit new students.”
Meza said the program has also helped him succeed in the classroom. He is on his way to earning an associate’s degree in engineering and plans to transfer to San Jose State University and participate in the school’s general engineering program. Eventually, Meza wants to pursue a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
“My involvement in Beating the Odds has helped me both academically and socially,” he said. “I became part of a community of students that want to succeed at Cañada College.”