By Roxana Pérez and Vita Soto
Welcome to The Next Step Spotlight! Every month throughout the school year we highlight a Next Step Staff as well as Alumni that have received their GED to check in and see how they are doing and what they’ve been up to since graduating from Next Step PCS.
For this month's Next Step Staff Spotlight, we interviewed Bryan Diaz who is an evening Case Manager on the Student Support Services.
Q: What is your name?
A: Bryan Diaz
Q: Where are you from?
A: I was born in Newark, NJ and later moved to Brooklyn, NY.
Q. Did you encounter any challenges while attending high school/GED program? If so, can you describe what they were and how you overcame them?
A: What challenges didn’t I face while in high school. First I came from a family that did not value education. There was no emphasis on the importance of getting one. I was actually ridiculed and picked on for wanting to get an education by my siblings and friends. I had no one to look up to in my family/friends when it came to education so I turned to external programs and organizations. I also went to school in a district that could not account for all of its students (talk about “No Child Left Behind”). I I felt like I was being babysat instead of educated all through high school, which later hindered my academic performance in college.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue a post-secondary education?
A: I decided to go to college and pursue a degree for the simple fact that, although I love my family, I did not want to be like them. As a child, I remember the struggles my mom went through to provide for me and my other seven siblings and seeing her sacrifices really pushed me to want to do better in life. I knew that I wanted to give back to my community, which gave so much to me as a child, and felt like it was my calling to give that help that once was given to me to others, and a education was the best route.
Q: Were you the first one in your family continue their education?
A: The first, let's see….let’s talk about the first, I was the first to graduate from high school, as none of my parents did, nor my older siblings and I was the first to get accepted into a major and well known University.
Q: Where did you continue your post-secondary education?
A: This one was a hard one for me. I honestly did not think I was college material while in high school. My GPS was a 3.0 but I honestly did not deserved it. I played favorites with teachers to get good grades, so I was shocked that I graduated top 20 in the class of 2006. I applied to one school which was Seton Hall University and I got rejected through general enrollment. I was the student they were looking for. Later in that school year, I learned that the Director of the Upward Bound program I attended while in high school became the Director of the Equal Opportunity Program (EOP) at Seton Hall, and he encouraged me to resubmit my application through EOP. After submitting my application hours later I received a fax at my school saying I was accepted. Dr. Erwin Ponder has since passed and I am grateful to have met this man who I humbly hang my degree at home in his honor. If it was not for him I would not have had the same motivation in myself as he did in me.
Q: What did you study?
A. This one is interesting. I came into Seton Hall University declared a Criminal Justice major with a concentration in Juvenile Delinquent Services. After my first year, I quickly changed to Secondary Education with a concentration in General Sciences. After my field placement and internship, I realized I love to teach but was not doing what I love and that was ultimately Social Work. My final major was Social Work with a concentration on Family and Youth Services.
Q:How did you pay for your post-secondary education?
A: At the time it cost nearly $32,000 a semester without room and board to attend Seton Hall University. I was blessed to be given a scholarship by Dr. Ponder from the EOP program which covered all my tuition, books, and fees. All I was in charge of was my room and board, which was a must for me because living at home was a big no-no. I was awarded nearly a quarter million dollars in scholarships.
Q. What was one of your biggest challenges while attending your post-secondary institution?
A: One of the biggest challenges I faced while at Seton Hall University was chartering a chapter of my fraternity, especially at a predominantly white institution. For two years I fought and petitioned for the school to open up its Greek life expansion policy to more diverse and multicultural fraternities and sororities. After all of this, I became a founder of my chapter. Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. Pi Tau Chapter.
Q. Who or what motivated you to continue and get through your postsecondary education?
A: Besides myself wanting better for me, this would have to be hands down Dr. Erwin Ponder. He passed away my sophomore year and besides all the ups and down I had I made a promise to get my degree even if it took me more than four years. That's why I hang my degree in his honor at home.
Q: Why did you decide to work in the education field?
A: I decided to work in Education because I felt like I related to the students that needed help. I was once that student that a school district could not account for and it hurt my heart to see youth calling for attention and capable adults looking the other way. I took on the burden of addressing the high school dropout crisis and that is what led me to move to the nation's capitol. Right in the backyard of the President's house students were dropping out of high school every 26 seconds and there was work needed to be done.
Q:What is your current role at TNS?
A: I am an Evening Case Manager.
Q:What advice would you give to students interested in continuing to post-secondary education?
A: The advice I would give is no matter the circumstance, no matter who it is, do not let anyone tell you that you are not college material, that you are not worthy, or that you do not matter. You are meant to shine and you are meant to make a difference in someone's life. Seek support when necessary as we cannot do it alone at times. There is no shame in asking for help when you are down. Realizing that you are in need of help and seeking it only shows that you value the help others are there to provide. Find someone in life that will push you to excel and find things in you that you did not see. You will be somebody one day and love who you love, because life is beautiful, SMILE!