California Community Colleges Student Success Stories skip navigation

Alex Garcia

Alex Garcia Statue FrontAlex Garcia Statue BackAlex Garcia

Alex Garcia spent his 20th birthday in the San Mateo County Jail, a high school dropout addicted to drugs. On Thursday, May 7, 2009 — nearly five years later — Garcia will be honored as one of only 50 community college students nationwide to receive the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation's Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship.

"I was arrested six times and was headed to prison," Garcia said. "I was sitting in jail, my mom had maxed out her savings to pay for a lawyer to keep me out of prison and a guard came up to me and said I was nothing but a no-good gang-banger and I would spend the rest of my life in prison. It was at that point I said 'no way, it's not going to play out this way.' "

Garcia was released into a drug rehabilitation transition house in Redwood City and decided to enroll at Cañada College. "I hated school with a passion," he said. "But I knew I needed more than a GED to succeed in life."

It was at Cañada that Garcia met Paul Roscelli, professor of economics. He had scored an A on an economics test in Roscelli's class and went to visit the professor during office hours. It was there that Roscelli challenged him. "He told me I was too smart not to pursue a first-class education," Garcia said. "I was considering transferring to a university but he challenged me to apply to Stanford, Cal and other top schools. It was a verbal slap in the face."

Roscelli recruited Garcia to be part of Beta Zeta Nu, Cañada's chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the national honors society for two-year colleges. Garcia became co-president of the club and spearheaded several community activities including planting more than 50 trees in Redwood City, organizing debates on the Iraq War, and talking to potential students about the value of education.

"He told his story to about 500 of our students and they were absolutely mesmerized," said Linda Haley, director of Cañada's Community-Based English Tutoring (CBET) Program. "You could have heard a pin drop. They saw how it was all about the decisions one makes – decisions to join gangs and continue that lifestyle, or the decision to achieve an education and open doors in that direction. Alex's decision and steadfast commitment to his goals have gotten him where he is, and his audiences take note of that and are inspired by his story."

Roscelli calls Garcia one of the most gifted students on campus. "He has earned A's in all three of my economics classes as well as an A in my financial accounting course. The average grade in these courses is a C. His talents are enhanced by his life experience and together you get a student that is mature, accomplished, and a proven contributor to the college community."

Garcia said he was surprised to receive the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation's Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. "So few students receive it," he said. "My plan is to major in economics at Berkeley and then go straight to grad school. My goal is to attend an Ivy League school."

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation's Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship makes it possible for the nation's top community college students to complete their bachelor's degrees by transferring to a four-year college or university. The foundation provides up to $30,000 per year to each of approximately 50 deserving students selected annually, making it the largest private scholarship for two-year and community college transfer students in the country.

Garcia is the second Cañada College student to receive the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation's Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. Viviana Alcazar received the scholarship in 2004, graduated from Stanford University, and is currently working on her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley.