Mario Escudero earns 2020 Karl S. Pister Scholarship awardby Jan Janes on Jun 9, 2020
Mario Escudero dealt with death in the family, survived his kids’ teen years, worked full time and explored multiple educational programs and leadership paths on his way to receiving the UCSC Karl S. Pister Leadership Opportunity Award.
Mario Escudero, the Karl S. Pister Scholarship
recipient from Gavilan College.
“He has been a valued member of the Gavilan community for several years,” said Dr. Kathleen Rose, Superintendent/President of Gavilan College. “And he has provided student leadership in ASGC and other campus groups.”
The path starts in 1998, a few years out of high school. Escudero explored business and accounting while he was working at a bank. But, he discovered, “That wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
His next foray a few years later, looking to buy a business, was cosmetology. “I’m a beauty school dropout,” he joked, “Because I wasn’t good looking enough.”
CSIS was next, but he couldn’t just sit in front of a computer. He explored Aviation Maintenance Technology and enjoyed the great instructors. While that still wasn’t what he wanted to do, he did discover he’s a people person.
And then his father, a smoker, was diagnosed with cancer.
“More than 12 years ago, I had to be my dad’s full time provider,” he said. “I had to learn how to take care of him.” Escudero was inspired by the hospital staff and their enormous caring as they taught him how to take care of his father. He also enrolled in Allied Health courses.
“I discovered I have the empathy to care for others,” he said. “I thought about becoming a physician. Could I find the resources to stay in school that long?” He got involved with student government, joined the Physician Assistant Club on campus, applied and was accepted to a pre-med apprenticeship at Stanford University.
And his mother, grieving, became a recluse.
“We started Walk for Health on campus around finals time,” said Escudero. “It was also around Mother’s Day. We got her out of the house and walking again, to cope with her grief.”
He participated in student services programs: EOPS, MESA, STEM and AEC.
“Rob Overson reached out, asked if I had ever thought about getting tested,” said Escudero. As an older student taking challenging courses, raising teenagers and dealing with the death of a parent, he was initially resistant. Overson succeeded in getting him past it.
“It turns out I have high test anxiety, which classroom noise makes one hundred times worse,” said Escudero. “It was a big game changer, understanding myself.”
In response, he tutored students with visual impairments and learning disabilities. “I know what it’s like,” he told them. “I could understand, and show them tools that could help.”
Escudero explored STEM opportunities, working in Dr. Grant Herzog’s lab at UCSC and in Dr. Brook’s lab at SJSU researching viruses, and was later invited to present his research findings at SACNAS in 2017. He even got to name two of the viruses he discovered – Matthew and Daija – after his teenage kids with their infectious personalities.
He rose through positions in student government and was elected president. One student government project was collecting all the recyclables being thrown in the trash, diverting it from the landfill and generated income. Water fountains were fitted with filtration systems so students could refill their personal water bottles. During his leadership, ASGC collaborated with the school nurse, organized walks and debates, and drafted a resolution banning tobacco use on campus.
“Those leadership experiences didn’t boost my grades,” he said. “But I don’t regret it and am very proud of my college.”
At Gavilan, Escudero completed degrees in Biological Science, Communication Studies and Spanish.
This year he was tapped as one of the finalists for the Pister award. “Dr. Rose started as a vice president when I was president of ASGC,” he said. “We worked together, and it was an honor to have her select me as a Pister nominee.”
He had already applied and was accepted to UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine and UC Merced. Nerves kicked in as he completed the essay sections of the Pister application. With the campus closed because of COVID-19, he reached out to college counseling and leadership staff and connected with his network to obtain letters of recommendation.
Testing anxiety showed up, and Escudero managed it by nailing the details. Note: This is the first year that Pister nominees conducted their interviews via Zoom.
He asked others to review his essay answers and his slide presentation. He obtained permission from his employer to use a conference room for the interview, so he didn’t have to contend with family background noise at home. He learned how to do remote video. He wore a suit and tie. He marked an X on the floor where he would stand. And he polished his shoes, even if the interview panel couldn’t see them.
After the interview, he waited. Days later he received a phone message from an unknown phone number. He called back; it was Dr. Rose, telling him she had received the email from UCSC awarding Escudero the Pister Scholarship.
“I am inspired by his resiliency despite several challenges in his life that extended the completion of his degree,” said Dr. Rose. “I am so proud of Mario in achieving his academic goals at Gavilan and look forward to hearing about his experience at UCSC.”
Escudero hopes to enter medicine and become an MD. He is also looking into the Physician Assistant program at CSUMB. Drawing on his years in STEM, he would like to keep a research base as well and get involved in cancer research.
When asked about winning the Pister Scholarship, he said, “I have a huge support group. Many support groups. A lot of people have contributed to my success: educationally, personally, mentally.”
“I was able to reinvent myself at Gavilan,” said Escudero. “Resilience: that’s got to be my word.”