Campus: Northridge -- September 28, 2007

Northridge Graduate Student Wins CSU’s Hearst/Trustees Scholarship

Delbert Moreno, a graduate student in Chicano/a Studies who is also pursuing a social science secondary teaching credential at Cal State Northridge, no longer feels like a foreigner who doesn’t belong on the calm, park-like campus.

No longer intimidated, he has excelled at Northridge, a world away—though only a few miles—from Pacoima and Panorama City, where years ago he and fellow gang members committed crimes and witnessed shootings. He is determined to help other students who also come from marginalized backgrounds; currently as a volunteer, soon as a high school teacher and, after completing a doctorate in sociology, as a college instructor.

"I want to have a significant impact. If I can change one life, and I know that I’ve given my best, I’ll be happy," said Moreno, one of 23 winners of the 2007/08 William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement, which honors students who have overcome obstacles and demonstrated superior academic performance, exemplary community service, significant personal achievement and financial need.

Moreno, who also completed his undergraduate work at CSUN, won the top prize, the Trustee Ali C. Razi Scholar Award and a $6,000 scholarship, in a tie with Humboldt State student Adrianna Bayer. All of the scholarship recipients were acknowledged at this week’s CSU Board of Trustees’ meeting. The Hearst awards are funded by an endowment from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation and donations from trustees. University presidents nominate one applicant per campus in the California State University system.

Moreno, 28, said the award will lessen his financial burdens, allow him to devote more time to his studies and finally complete his graduate thesis project: "Surviving on the Margins: An Exploratory Study of Mexican Single Mothers."

Survival, he said, had to be his mother’s focus as she worked two jobs, in a factory and cleaning houses, to support four children. At one point, the former farm worker who picked fruit had to rely on welfare to provide for her family.

"We only had one book in the home. It was a Catholic book of prayers. That was the only book we had. I didn’t grow up having any exposure to literature," Moreno said.

Away from home, he got into trouble. He started fighting, stealing and selling drugs. Suspended from elementary and middle school, he continued having problems in high school, skipping weeks at a time. He contemplated dropping out, but his counselor saw something in him and during a series of conversations, convinced him to stay.

"She believed in me. She reached out to me," he said. "She played a big role." Encouraging him to think about his future and college, possibly CSUN, she arranged for Moreno to take the SATs and helped him win a scholarship of $100. "It wasn’t much, but the gesture sparked something in me," he said.

Initially rejected by CSUN, he was admitted after interviewing with the Educational Opportunity Program, which helps highly motivated, low-income students.

While sitting on the lawn in front of the Oviatt Library before classes started, Moreno met a student who talked about his religion, invited him to church and challenged him to re-evaluate his values. He regularly attended services, read scriptures aloud with the help of a dictionary so he wouldn’t be embarrassed in Bible study and spent hours with fellow church members who also tutored him. That discipline, he said, "spilled into my studies."

"I would always try to do more than I was asked. If I was asked to do four pages, I would do eight," he said. Hungry for knowledge, he read voraciously, improved his vocabulary and became interested in philosophy. Academic success built his confidence. CSUN became his refuge.

"My whole life revolved around being at school by 9 and not going home until midnight. The library became my home. That routine allowed me to distance myself from my neighborhood," he said. "I purposely avoided driving and walking through certain streets I grew up on."

Moreno, who expects to complete his master’s degree this semester, said had he not been admitted to CSUN, "I probably would be in prison or dead. My mother wouldn’t be attending a graduation; she probably would be attending a funeral."

"People helped me," he said. He points to mentors in the Chicano/a Studies Department: former professor Alberto Garcia; his thesis chair, professor Mary Pardo and lecturer Roberto Sifuentes, who, in the process of exposing Moreno to Mexican literature and poetry, encouraged him to open up, be honest with himself and take whatever steps he needed to blossom. On campus, Moreno also became involved in Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) and the Central American United Students Association.

"I want to give back. I want to be an inspiration. I want to be a role model," Moreno said. He volunteers for MEND (Meet Each Need with Dignity), which is the San Fernando Valley’s largest poverty relief organization. Based in Pacoima, each month the nonprofit provides 40,000 recipients with food, clothing, medical and dental care, computer and English classes, job training and referrals.

Moreno assesses the needs of poor families for MEND, a task motivated by personal experience. "My mother was supported by this agency," which, he said, also gives food baskets and Christmas presents.

Capitalizing on the credibility that comes from growing up as he did, he also has tutored at-risk students at his old high school, and volunteered in Panorama City at a community-based La Casa de Esperanza.

Contact: Carmen Ramos Chandler, carmen.chandler@csun.edu, (818) 677-2130


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