On to New Beginnings
By Joseph Arballo
My journey in higher education started in community college, which I entered as a first-generation college student and with the vague understanding I could become a nurse or a businessman.
My 2 1/2 years there were perilous, fraught with financial insecurity and the challenges of navigating the complex bureaucracy of higher education. I found myself continuing despite these perils, with a goal of increasing my financial stability and entering the upper echelons of society to become a role model to my community and family. I wanted to show that education was a viable path, and that anyone can succeed in the ivory tower.
I was fortunate to discover the range of majors I had to choose from, and, after a while, I discovered my deep passion for physiology and science. With a newfound understanding of what I wanted to do, I embarked to become a Wildcat, transferring to Chico State as an exercise physiology major in spring 2017.
As a spring transfer, I found myself engaged in research, upper-division coursework, and work as a medical scribe at a private chiropractic clinic. I found my calling to become a scientist through my internship as a lab assistant that first semester and decided to pursue it further when I earned an internship studying antioxidants’ impacts on metabolism at the University of Utah that following summer.
Yet, disaster struck. Before summer’s end, I would find myself losing my Cal Grant due to a single-sentence clause that prohibits the grant from being given to early transfers—effectively making me lose the critical funding I had just gotten for the rest of my undergraduate college education.
This discovery happened just two weeks before the fall semester, while I was in a different state and amongst full-time research and seminars. I was worried that my newfound passion for science and research may be cut short when it had only just been discovered.
Worried I wouldn’t be able to return to my education and Chico State, I contacted Tasha Alexander, the project director of TRiO Student Support Services, and Thomas Fahey, professor emeritus in the Department of Kinesiology, to see if they could help.
Professor Fahey emailed the president of Chico State, Gayle Hutchinson, and she emailed me with concern and shock at my circumstances. This eased my guilt, as I felt that this was all my fault—even though experts on financial aid experts couldn’t even foresee this happening.
At the exact same time, Tasha got me into contact with financial aid, where Kentiner David in the Financial Aid and Scholarship Office secured me the Chico State University Grant for the remainder of my college education, allowing me to return back to school.
President Hutchinson also got me an audience with the director of financial aid, Dan Reed, who also was shocked that I lost my Cal Grant for being an early transfer. I was fortunate to be able to tell him I’d be able to return to my education due to the efforts of TRiO and David, and President Hutchinson was glad to hear I’d be returning and asked me to come by sometime to say hello.
I realized that there were always people to watch out for you, and that those in the position of power in higher education can make education more accessible for those with similar stories as mine.
The rest of my tenure at Chico State was eventful. I’d continue to earn dean’s list recognition and become a learning assistant for Professor David Brookes’ “General Physics” class, working and teaching under him for a year and a half. I also connected with Professor Feng He in the kinesiology department and began to help research the impacts of obesity and reactive oxygen species.
In spring 2018, President Hutchinson was the keynote speaker at an event I attended on the experiences of being a first-generation college student, I finally had the chance to say hi and thank her for helping me. She told me to keep in contact and to tell her if I ever got into a graduate school.
My experience in higher education had made me determined to become a professor—as the internship at the University of Utah showed me my love for physiological research, and the help Professor Fahey and Tasha secured for me convinced me that professorship and academia was the place for me. I want to provide the same helping hand and knowledge I’ve come to be so grateful for.
Near the beginning of this year, I had gotten my first of several graduate school acceptances, and after tireless flights, interviews, and traveling, I decided to attend the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign in its Division of Nutritional Sciences, which is ranked in the top five graduate nutrition programs in the nation—hooray!
I’ll be working in the lab of Professor John Erdman, an expert on metabolism, cancer, and endocrinology. This program usually admits students with bachelor’s degrees as master’s candidates, but I have been admitted as a full-fledged doctoral student since I have gotten a fellowship for my first year, along with substantial funding. This completely covers my educational costs in addition to a summer internship, so I can dive right into my next educational chapter.
I believe the prestige, opportunity, and collaboration from University of Illinois–Urbana Champaign will provide me the framework to become competitive for post-doctorate positions and, later down the line, a career as a professor—maybe even teaching at the place that where I learned I wanted to be one.
Today, mere days after walking across the stage at graduation, I’m preparing for my summer internship and excited for the next steps. Remembering that President Hutchinson asked me to stay in touch, I wrote her a note to share my plans and extend my thanks, signing off by saying, “Allowing me to continue my education gave me the opportunity to succeed. I hope to make you, along with Chico State proud.”
With that, I’m off to new beginnings, a pathway opened to me by the people who believed in me. Thanks, Chico State.
Joseph Arballo is a first-generation college student who graduated with his bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology in May 2019. An aspiring professor, he will begin doctoral studies this fall at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in one of the top five nutrition programs in the country.