By: Ana Portnoy Brimmer
It was 7:30 a.m., a crisp April morning, at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez (UPRM). The hallways, parking lot, and paint chipped benches outside the student center were becoming crowded. The university was slowly springing to life. However, Edrick Joel Alvarado had been there since 6:00 a.m; his parents had dropped him off before going to work. He didn’t have class till 8:30 a.m, but his kind nature and good humor weren’t dampened by the early hours and strenuous arrangements; he had a smile and warm greeting for every passerby or acquaintance he encountered.
Edrick Alvarado is an 18-year-old UPRM physics major who grew up in housing projects and attended public schools in Puerto Rico and the United States. According to studies conducted by the “Centro Universitario para el Acceso” (CUA) (University Center For Access), a project that conducts research and outreach activities to understand the relationship between socio-economic background and educational opportunities, students from housing projects and public schools are less likely to have access to and be successful in higher education. Nonetheless, Edrick managed to overcome the obstacles and squash the statistics and prejudice linked with his background and accomplish the “unlikely”: achieving his academic and professional goals.
Edrick was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. He lived there seven and a half years in a housing project. Unfortunately, it started getting too problematic, and they moved to Puerto Rico to live with his grandmother in Manuel Hernández Rosa, a violence-ridden project in Mayagüez.
“The place behind my house in Manuel Hernández Rosa was where people from the project would test their guns. I could hear the gun shots from my bedroom window,” Edrick commented casually, his warm smile unwavering.
Edrick attended public schools close to his housing project, since his family was constantly car-less, and he had to walk to school. Having lived seven years in the United States, Edrick had a hard time transitioning from speaking English to Spanish, and, in the absence of a transitional program for students like him in the public schools, he was held back a year during elementary school.
“It was very hard living in Manuel Hernández Rosa. My mom was always very concerned and insistent on my staying away from all the trouble. I always made sure to do so,” Edrick remembered seriously, his soft brown eyes, however, revealing his unshakable optimism.
When Edrick reached middle school, he attended “a very tough” public school: María Dolores Faría. Edrick became friends with a boy there whose mother was the school’s guidance counselor. Edrick and his friend would spend their days inside her office, away from the drug use and other illegal activities going on at the school.
“The school was also weak academically. There was no need to work or study much, but my mom always pushed me to do so anyway. She is one of my greatest inspirations,” Edrick said with deep emotion as he stared down deeply at his lap.
Edrick’s mother completed middle school, but was always very insistent and resolute that her children would go much farther in their education. When Edrick was in middle school, his mother attended ACPR Junior College and obtained her high school diploma.
While at María Dolores Faría, Edrick pursued one of his major goals: attending the Centro Residencial de Oportunidades Educativas de Mayagüez (CROEM), a competitive residential public high school specialized in math and science. Edrick and his mom solicited help from María Dolores Faría and managed to get three teachers to help prepare Edrick and put him in shape for CROEM.
Edrick also received help from the CUA during his journey towards CROEM, and towards college as well. They assisted him with his school work, orientation, admissions paperwork and applications, mentoring, and reviewing for the University of Puerto Rico’s college admissions test (the College Board).
“I’d known about CROEM since I was in elementary school and always dreamed of studying there. Math and science are my passions,” Edrick said proudly as he smiled humbly.
The time came for Edrick to take CROEM’s admittance test, and before he knew it, he was moving into his dorm at the school. During his time at CROEM, Edrick conducted research in particle physics, which won him a trip to California, where he presented his investigation.
“Edrick was always very involved at school. He played in CROEM’s soccer team, did research in particle physics, and lead the school’s prayer circle,” said Reynaldo Malavé González, a classmate of Edrick’s at CROEM.
“Living at CROEM was a complete change from living at Manuel Hernández Rosa, especially since things at Manuel Hernández Rosa were getting even more problematic, because it was at battle with another housing project: Columbus Landing. I was constantly worried about my family living at Manuel Hernández Rosa,” Edrick remembered uneasily.
While at CROEM, Edrick was able to truly pursue his two passions, math and science, and escape the environment of the housing project.
After Edrick graduated from CROEM, he achieved another of his life ambitions: getting accepted to UPRM. It wasn’t long before he joined the ranks of CUA’s student staff. Edrick likes being able to help students who, like him, come from housing projects, and combating the prejudices against the underserved population from housing projects.
Nowadays, Edrick regularly visits María Dolores Faría school as well, where he catches up with the teachers who helped him and encourages students to work hard and stay away from trouble.
Edrick is currently in his second year at UPRM majoring in physics. His current goal? To earn the credentials that would allow him to enter a graduate program in medical physics. In the future, he hopes to become a physics professor and conduct research at an oncology center.
His days at UPRM are jam packed attending classes, tutoring and mentoring students at the CUA, working on a research project in his field, attending bible study meetings, and dealing with the everyday demands of college life.
Even though statistically it was unlikely for Edrick to accomplish his academic and professional goals, he achieved them, squashing the numbers, and inspiring other “unlikelies” to do the same.