Alfred G. Perez
Assistant Professor of Social Work
Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BASW), San Jose State University
Master of Social Work (MSW), University of Michigan
Ph.D. in Social Welfare, University of Chicago
What does being first-gen mean to you?
Being first-gen means that I am a trailblazer by being the first person in my family to not only graduate from high school but also earn three college degrees. Being first-gen means that I get to live out the hopes and dreams of my grandparents who migrated from Puerto Rico to the U.S. mainland seeking economic opportunity. Being first-gen means that every time someone says my full name that my grandfather's and my father's legacy lives on.
What challenges/barriers have you faced or overcome during college?
When I became a legal adult at the age of 18, I aged out of the California foster care system. For me, going to college was about survival because it provided me a place to live, a community, food, and an opportunity to better my life through education. At the time, I figured college beat working a minimum-wage job or enrolling in the military - the choices I thought I had at the time. Even though I was doing all the right things the hidden challenges for me came when the dorms closed during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, and the Summer. Luckily, I was able to stay at a high school friend's home during these times and today colleges like SU provide year-round housing and other supports for students with foster care histories.
What resource(s) or support helped you to be successful?
I quickly learned that I could offset the cost of going to college and stay in the dorms during some of the breaks by being an RA in the dorms. So, I did everything possible to secure one of the spots. In addition, the biggest support outside of housing was being mentored by a social work faculty member who encouraged me to get a master's and doctoral degree. Dr. Alice Hines taught me that social workers not only help people but also define social problems and shape policy solutions through the scientific method. This appealed to me greatly because it allowed me to leverage my personal experience in foster care with rigors of academic training. Also, Dr. Hines invited me to her house a few times to have dinner with her husband (a famous professor from UC Berkeley) and her kids (one of her sons is a professor in Portland). This was important because this allowed me to imagine what life would look like after college.
Do you have an inspirational quote that helped guide you through college?
The only quote I remember from my first year of college was from Associate Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “A man's mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.”
What advice would you give to someone else who is also first-gen?
Don't conform to fit in with others. Be yourself. Asking for help is a sign of strength not a sign of weakness.