By Allie Gordon

With a remote internship at the Los Angeles environmental nonprofit Tree People already under his belt, first-year Roberto Garces Mendez is eager to get to campus and jump in to make a difference in his new community.

One thing Roberto most looks forward to when he finally gets to move down to Los Angeles? Taking advantage of the city’s diverse and renowned food culture.

“I want to try a lot of different food,” he says. “It’s something I wish I had a little more exposure to, here in Salem, OR. I think L.A., in its diversity, brings a lot of food palates and different ways of consuming food.”

Diversity is an important word here. Oxy’s dynamic campus culture combined with the global city of L.A. stood out to Roberto during his college search. As the son of parents who immigrated from Guatemala and Mexico, he was looking forward to a college experience more diverse than his experiences in Salem. 

“Finding my community and people that look like me and have a general understanding of what I’ve been through and experienced” was a major factor for Roberto in his college decision. Oxy’s commitment to financially supporting lower-income students and students of color is another. “Oxy helped me a lot covering expenses and I’m very, very grateful.”

For now, Roberto has made the most of his virtual learning experience, connecting with fellow classmates, professors and even landing a remote internship. He is working with the Los Angeles nonprofit Tree People, translating documents from English to Spanish and doing community outreach. He was connected to the internship through his fall Cultural Studies Program (CSP) seminar, “Nature, From the Inside Out,” which included a biology research internship component. 

“My internship at Tree People was eye-opening and helped me get my foot in the door in terms of community outreach for California, even though I’m here in Oregon,” he says.

Roberto’s CSP experience also helped him feel connected to the Oxy community, thanks especially to Professor of Biology Beth Braker.

“Professor Braker is someone I really look up to,” Roberto says. “Not only her teaching and the actual content of her class, but as a person Professor Braker is very caring and understanding. And being not only online, but in my first semester of college, she helped me feel more comfortable and understand the inner workings of Oxy. That definitely demonstrated that I made the right choice in coming here, that I am valued as a person and listened to.”

I’m hoping to become an immigration attorney. I want to help people navigate the legal system to attain their citizenship or just to be here in the United States.”

Enrolling in a CSP seminar is an important and unique part of a first-year student’s experience at Oxy. Not only does it help prepare them for college-level critical thinking, essay writing and intellectual discussion, but it gives new students a chance to connect with their classmates. 

“I’m very grateful for that CSP class because it gave me a good footing within Oxy to find friends and communicate with other people. I have several other friends taking the same classes as me, so I have resources—I can reach out to them and ask for help, and they can do the same with me. At the end of the day, these are the people that will have your back now and even after college, and I think that’s incredibly beneficial.”

This semester, Roberto is especially enjoying his “Comparative Politics” and “Sociology 101” classes. Though he’s not yet sure which major he will choose, he feels confident that Oxy will prepare him to achieve his goals of working in the field of law.

“I’m hoping to become an immigration attorney,” he says. “I want to help people navigate the legal system to attain their citizenship or just to be here in the United States. I think everything about Oxy—its location, the culture of L.A. and diversity of the campus—ties in to me being able to express myself and use the knowledge that I gain here to help people.”