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From taking remedial Math classes to working in world-renowned research center: a CDC scholarship winner’s journey

April 9, 2019 | Community

Over the course of a decade, Dalila Robledo has attained what she initially believed was beyond reach.

Lacking even the basic English and Math skills, the first-generation American plowed through remedial classes, surpassed her peers academically, and gave back to her community as a math and science tutor. Robledo — now a senior at UC Berkeley — spent last summer in Switzerland performing high-level research at CERN, one of the most renowned science labs in the world

“Though I’ve been through a long journey,” said Robledo, 26. “I learned it takes persistence and patience to achieve my goals.”

The chance to attend Berkeley without debt and conduct research at facilities such as CERN was partly made possible through an Arthur H. Goodman scholarship. Presented by community lender CDC Small Business Finance, the annual award honors service-minded women and minorities advancing from community college to four-year universities in California or Arizona, just like Robledo.

‘Encouraging students by sharing my story’

While Robledo was born in San Diego, she was raised in Tijuana, Mexico, a culturally rich border city just south of San Diego. Her family relocated to San Diego in 2008, when she was 15.

Though Robledo went on to graduate from high school in San Diego, she couldn’t comprehend how she managed that. The level of her English and Math skills were “basically at zero,” she said.

She’d go on to enroll in San Diego City College to play catch-up academically. Through remedial courses, she showed a natural affinity for math and science. A combination of her natural curiosity, drive and a solid support system propelled her toward more advanced courses.

Playing a key role in Robledo’s academic success was City College’s MESA program. It provides tutoring and other support to community college students who aim to transfer to four-year universities in the math and sciences.

Grateful for her experience, Robledo later volunteered as a MESA peer mentor, helping others with math and physics. “I enjoyed encouraging students by sharing my stories,” she added. Separately, she also worked at the San Diego City College Tutorial/Learning Center as a tutor.

‘I thought I’d be in debt for so many years’

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UC Berkeley campus

Recognized as a rising star, Robledo had her sights on attending UC Berkeley, which has one of the top physics programs in the nation.

She’d go on to get an acceptance letter from the esteemed school, whose admissions department indicated she was chosen to join the fall of 2017 student body out of 18,000 transfer applicants.

The one barrier that could have kept her from attending was the cost. That’s when she discovered the Goodman scholarship through the MESA program.

Since 1998, the Goodman scholarship committee has awarded $250,000 to dozens of deserving, community-minded students who’ve gone on to institutions including UC San Diego, UCLA, UC Berkeley, University of Arizona and Cal Poly. The scholarship pays homage to Arthur H. Goodman, founder of CDC Small Business Finance and a philanthropist who focused on helping the underserved.

Related: From gang’s life to Dean’s list: A Goodman scholar’s story

When Robledo found out she was a Goodman scholarship recipient, a wave of relief came over her.

“This scholarship has totally eased the financial burden of attending Berkeley,” she said. “I thought I’d be in debt for so many years. Now I’m able to focus only on academics.”

Robert Villarreal, a member of the scholarship committee and CDC’s executive team, was blown away by Robledo’s credentials.

“Among our scholarship candidates, we don’t get a lot of people in this type of science, particularly Latinas,” he said. “She struck the committee as a unique individual. In her essay and interview with the scholarship committee, she came off very poised and intelligent.”

From remedial classes to researcher at CERN

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Dalila Robledo

The Goodman scholarship also allowed Robledo to take on unpaid research work, which will likely give her an edge when she applies for competitive PhD programs.

Thanks to the scholarship and other financial aid, she doesn’t have to stress about college finances or take on a time-consuming part-time job, two things that would’ve detracted from her academic and research goals.

She spent last summer in Switzerland conducting research at CERN, also known as the European Organization for Nuclear Research. It’s touted as one of the biggest and most revered scientific research centers in the world. And it’s home to the world’s largest particle accelerator.

During her semester there, Robledo conducted experiments that involved trapping and studying antihydrogen and comparing them to hydrogen atoms. (You can read more about her work here.)

As she dove deeper into research at CERN, she made a personal discovery: Many of the research students she worked alongside came from math and science families, where in some cases, both parents were scientists.

“I don’t see a lot of people like me” at places like CERN, she said. “This is how far a scholarship can take you.”

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Robledo at CERN, one of the most respected science research centers in the world.

Goodman scholarship also brings mentoring

Robert Villarreal

Another benefit of being a Goodman scholar is that you have access to built-in mentorship from the scholarship committee members. Robledo has been especially grateful to Robert Villarreal and Tyler Orion, who have checked in with her after she receiving her scholarship award.

“I absolutely recommend students apply for this scholarship,” she said. “They not only provide financial support, they also show they care.”

Orion, who’s been part of San Diego’s tech sector for 30 years, called Robledo “impressive – in her accomplishments, in her bold goals and in her commitment to helping others.”

“Serving on the CDC’s Arthur H. Goodman scholarship committee offers the privilege of being constantly inspired by the capability of many young people who overcome adversity and rise to incredible challenges,” she added.

What’s next for this Goodman scholar?

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Dalila Robledo at a recent science presentation for school.

Although Robledo’s schedule is jam-packed with schoolwork, she has committed to giving back to her Berkeley community next semester as a physics mentor. She’ll serve as a sounding board for incoming physics transfer students, work that she calls “very rewarding.”

What’s the next frontier for this enterprising student?

Applying to PhD programs and for jobs in the science field.

Are you interested in applying for an Arthur H. Goodman scholarship? Visit our page for more details and a copy of the application. 2019-2020 submissions will be accepted now through June 7, 2019. Get yours in before then!


Do you want to invest in a bright future? Contact Robert Villarreal to learn more about how to donate to the Arthur H. Goodman scholarship fund. 619-243-8652 or RVillarreal@cdcloans.com


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