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Turning the Tide

With help from SCU’s LEAD program, Matthew Salmanpour ’16 is becoming the first in his family to graduate from college.

Many of SCU’s LEAD Scholars feel pressure to be the person who “turns the tide” in their families—changing the expectation about college from unattainable wishful thinking to one where family members take it for granted they will attend. 

Graduating senior Matthew Salmanpour ’16 is hoping this is actually what’s happened in his case, with help from SCU’s successful LEAD program serving students who are the first in their families to attend college.

Matthew’s parents were Assyrian Christian refugees who came to Silicon Valley from Iran in the early 1990s, in hopes of more religious freedom and better opportunities for their family. His mom, who wouldn't normally have worked in Iran due to cultural expectations, says Matthew, went to work after her dad died when she was young, working in billing for a nonprofit oil company.  

His dad has always been a successful "jack of all trades," working as a cashier, car salesman, restaurant manager, and for HP and Applied Materials in various roles—all despite not graduating from college.

Matthew expected to go to UCLA, but family issues arose which led him to decide he should stay close to home. He'd applied halfheartedly to SCU because his mom had attended Mass at the mission and loved the campus. When it suddenly became his top choice, he was recruited to the LEAD program, which he said was great for several reasons:

  • He met others like him, where the pressure to “turn the tide” was intense.
  • LEAD’s mentors and guides really understood that pressure and helped him realize “college is a process, and you don’t have to be amazing right from the beginning,” he said.
  • He got to come to campus his first year a week before everyone else, making a scary time less scary.

Matthew said LEAD’s associate director, Erin Kimura-Walsh, convinced him that the LEAD program “was a community where they genuinely cared, where they want to give you the tools to succeed... It's very, very important in college to find that," he added.

LEAD also helped expose him and his fellow scholars to opportunities to show their leadership—something all the students eagerly signed up for. As a result of that exposure, Matthew became a Community Facilitator at his residence hall, Unity–McLaughlin Walsh Hall, a resume-builder that has helped him in every internship and job interview since.

In addition, one of his first LEAD professors took a shine to him and got him a rare freshman internship teaching at iDTech Camp at Stanford, where high-tech parents and others send their kids to learn coding. He made fantastic connections there.

That led to internships at Stryker and VMware, where he learned that he has a passion for technical marketing. He now has a full-time job at Cypress Semiconductor waiting for him, helping facilitate the "Internet of Things.” Cypress is also paying for him to get his Master's in engineering.

Now, Matthew believes he truly represents a pivotal generation in his family.

“I hope that I will be able to help future generations of my family all attend college, using my experiences these last four years at Santa Clara,” he said. “I am very grateful for my education at SCU, and look forward to living out what I have learned in my time here.”

 

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Matthew with other Unity RLC Residence Life Staff. Photo courtesy Matthew Salmanpour