Cañada Student Turns Down $10,000 Scholarship to Pursue Dream of Studying Political Economy at UC Berkeley

Tue, 8 May, 2012 at 9:51 am
A Redwood City community college student who lived in an upholstery shop when he was 15 is turning down a $10,000 scholarship to UC Santa Cruz to pursue his educational dream of studying at UC Berkeley.

Carlos Ortega, a student at Cañada College, lived in 12 different homes by the time he was a high school sophomore and eventually moved into an upholstery shop owned by his father's friend, fashioning a mattress out of pieces of foam remnants. He began stealing food, clothes, and car stereos to meet his basic needs but that lifestyle became dangerous so he dropped out of school his senior year to take on a full-time job.

"It's truly an honor and privilege to be offered this scholarship," Ortega said, "but I have been accepted to UC Berkeley, which is my first choice. It's been a dream of mine to study political economy and some of the world's foremost experts in the subject work at Berkeley. I know some people question turning down such a great opportunity but I'm excited to go to Cal."

Ortega is a member of Cañada's Phi Theta Kappa honor society chapter, serving as the group's Vice President of Finance. He has earned Dean's List academic honors the past five semesters and was chosen to present original research at this year's community college research symposium. Ortega is 26-years-old, returning to college only after he was able to save enough money to pay tuition.

He grew up in a poor, uneducated household and receives no financial support from his divorced parents. Turning down a $10,000 scholarship is a major decision. "The BOG fee waiver and Pell Grant have allowed me to work a little less and better concentrate on my studies at Cañada," he said. Still, Ortega estimates he works 30+ hours per week as a handyman and fine furniture mover to help make ends meet. "It is more difficult to succeed academically when you have to work a full-time job and study."

After leaving high school, Ortega began working for a fine furniture store as a mover. He quickly rose through the ranks and eventually became the warehouse manager, in charge of millions of dollars of merchandise. He was leading a six-man crew and was soon making logistical improvements in the warehouse operations to make it more efficient.

"I'm thankful for my time as manager and the invaluable skills I've learned from that powerful experience," he said. "Today, I use those skills while planning events and fundraisers with the honor society on campus. I am able to see potential problems in budgeting and logistics and prepare myself, and fellow members, to deal with such issues."

Interim President Jim Keller said Carlos is a student-leader committed to receiving a quality education. "He has had to overcome immense obstacles to an education which would have been far too daunting for most people in our society. He did this entirely on his own initiative, without family assistance or any of the usual support mechanisms of a functioning family."

Ortega said academically he was immediately drawn to economic theory, calculus, and the mathematical formality of economic analysis. "Examining global and local events and pressing issues unfolding around me, I realize that economic analysis is essential to prescribe solutions," he said. "I strive to dedicate my life to such a discipline that has the potential to positively affect societies on both the local and global level."

Ortega said he would like to eventually work for the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. "I believe the next step toward achieving my goal is to study in a culturally diverse setting and challenging educational environment like UC Berkeley. I want to study under cutting-edge professors with different outlooks."

Before attending Cal, Ortega said he'll participate in Cañada's Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 26. "Cañada has given me a great opportunity," he said. "I'm excited to go through the graduation ceremony at the school."
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