Alumnus shares journey to Harvard


Denis Perez / The Advocate

Contra Costa College alumnus Edwin Reyes (left) talks to physics major Ruth Elizabeth Whet (right) in the Physical Sciences Building after his Friday seminar.

By Denis Perez, Editor-in-Chief

A village raises a child the same way a college community develops a student.

That community consists of faculty, classified staff, administrators and successful alumni who take time to nurture student interests and make those interests relevant to their educational paths.

Harvard Medical School postdoctoral researcher Edwin Reyes, a Contra Costa College alumnus, said the support he received at CCC made him believe in himself. And that is the reason he came back to speak to students in a two-day event at Fireside Hall on Thursday, and Friday in GE-225.

Dr. Reyes found his passion for baseball at El Cerrito High School, which lasted through his graduation.

“My priorities were to pitch, play baseball and work out. Then I took a chemistry course at CCC and I liked it,” Dr. Reyes said. “It wasn’t because I was good in it, but because the professor (chemistry professor Joe Ledbetter) became a mentor rather than an instructor.”

Ledbetter said, “His (Reyes’) self-esteem toward education was not high and his heart was in baseball.”

Reyes was unique in the way he quickly learned things and was very “street smart,” Ledbetter said.

He said, “He exhibited qualities of someone very intelligent and educationally capable, but he just needed those qualities mined out of him.”

Reyes said Ledbetter suggested he join the Center for Science Excellence program at CCC.

Reyes did and it changed his perspective on what hard work could do in college and what college could do for him in return.

He said he started to sacrifice his time outside of school and the sacrifices accumulated. Through scholarships, stipends and grants, he said he gained half a million dollars worth of education he didn’t pay for out of his own wallet.

STEM Café organizer Sedi Sidharta said Reyes is a prime example of what students who do their best by applying for financial aid, scholarships and internships can achieve.

Sidharta said the way Reyes began to network at CCC was by working in a paid position in the CSE. She said at the colleges he attended after CCC he found ways they would pay him to work in a relevant field to his educational field.

She said that Reyes, and others like him, have dedication, motivation, work ethic and a desire to give back.

Reyes, a first generation college student and son of El Salvadorian asylum-seeking immigrants, began his higher educational development at CCC in 2001.

Graduating in 2003, he then transferred to Cal State-East Bay in 2003 where earned his bachelor’s degree in molecular and cell biology in 2006.

Soon after, Reyes taught at De Anza High School in Richmond, where he also coached the varsity baseball team from 2006-08.

Reyes said he saved money for graduate school during his time teaching at De Anza.

In 2008, Reyes enrolled in Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic grad school transition program and was there until 2009. He earned a post-baccalaureate in cancer immunology in the Research Education Program.

He then left to study at the University of Chicago until 2015, when he graduated. There he earned his Ph.D. in immunology and cancer biology.

Reyes has been a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School since 2015.

At Harvard, Reyes said he is one of the only brown people in his program. He said he was used to being a minority in his educational environment from previous programs like Mayo Clinic and Chicago.

For CCC biology major Carlos Arevalo, the inspiration that comes from Reyes’ words goes a long way for him and his educational path.

Arevalo, who attended Reyes’ seminar on Friday, said he relates to Reyes on a personal level.

Arevalo emigrated legally from El Salvador in 2016.

He said the language transition from Spanish to English and the different lifestyle has made it difficult to succeed in a community college setting.

However, he said his biggest support comes from CSE because there is already a path for people like him to reach the top universities.

“One of us (CCC students) has gone for it and he is coming back to tell us how he did it. I know I can too,” Arevalo said.

Arevalo said because many students have walked that particular path before, he has high hopes that the community support and his own hard work and sacrifice will get him to where he wants to go.