Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

BCC’s new MESA director instills confidence in students

Armando Franco reflects on journey from first-generation college student to experienced mentor
Photo: Desmond Meagley
Armando Franco, BCC’s new MESA Program Director, sits at his desk in a corner of the MESA center at BCC. The new program will offer support for low-income, first-generation students in STEM.

Tucked in the right hand corner of a building on 2000 Center Street is an empty classroom with blank walls and sparse seating. In the furthest corner from the door sits Armando Franco, preparing his dreams of transforming the space into a lively home for students and innovations.

“There’s a lot of good potential here,” Franco said. “It’s exciting to be a part of that. And to see it happen. And to make it happen.”

Franco is a first generation college graduate, and a former student at Berkeley City College (BCC). He recently returned to the college to lead its new Math, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA) program.

Franco spent the past two decades working at nonprofit youth organizations in the Bay Area before getting the position as BCC’s MESA Program Director in late February.

MESA is a national organization aimed at providing opportunities for students from underrepresented backgrounds to enter STEM fields. In California, MESA programs at community colleges provide tutoring, counseling, and academic workshops to first-generation, low-income students in STEM majors who hope to transfer to four-year universities.

Franco was born and raised in Los Angeles, to immigrant parents from Puebla, Mexico. Growing up, Franco had no desire to follow a career in education.

“I didn’t plan it,” Franco told The Citizen. “When I was growing up I remember thinking like, I would hate to be a teacher because they have such an early schedule.”

He spoke on his relationship with self-empowerment, and how the words of his mother still motivate him every day. She used to tell him, “¡No te dejes!” – a phrase of power and independence. A phrase that pulses in his ear telling him that no one has more power over him than himself.

“Even if it’s a teacher, even if it’s an adult, that doesn’t mean that they can tell you what to do or that they have some sort of power over you,” Franco said. “You are equals, as much as anybody else.”

Science-themed stickers on a table in the MESA center. (Photo: Desmond Meagley/The Citizen)

When he was a child, Franco wanted to follow in the footsteps of his brother, who wanted to become an architect himself to build a home for their parents. By the time he was heading into college, he had his sights set on becoming a cardiologist. He grew up with a congenital heart problem, and wanted to become like the doctors who helped him throughout his youth.

Franco enrolled at UC Berkeley, ready to pursue a degree in the medical field. Yet by the end of his first semester, he was crushed with the weight of disappointment and doubt that so commonly hits students. He felt he didn’t have the proper support system around him to tell him everything was going to be alright.

By the end of his time at UC Berkeley, he was able to persevere and graduate with a degree in Environmental Economics and Policy, but wasn’t sure what to do after college. Eventually, Franco found work at Making Waves Academy in Richmond as a math tutor.

While at Making Waves he fell in love with engaging with students, helping them to achieve their educational goals and become a “proponent of the sciences.”

“When I landed in it, I really enjoyed it,” he said. “And I really saw the impact it made and the positive impact that it had […] not just on students, but also their families.”

Franco would make a point of encouraging his students to see failure as just another part of the process in education. He made sure to fill that role as a mentor that he didn’t have while growing up.

“I didn’t have anyone like that and I was very much afraid to ask for help,” he said. “Or I didn’t know how to ask for help, or I didn’t understand that that’s a part of the learning process. […] I would always try to encourage my students to take that challenge and to take that science lesson and to take on that career in STEM.”

Through his time at Making Waves, encouraging students to pursue their deepest educational goals, he rekindled the drive to pursue his own. After leaving Making Waves, he decided to chase after a Master’s degree in the sciences.

Franco first enrolled at Peralta in 2015, with BCC as his home campus, to strengthen his base in the sciences.

“I had no science foundation,” he told The Citizen. “And so then I enrolled at BCC, and I took physics for one year here and chemistry for one year.”

“It was kinda funny,” he said, “cause I came back to like, almost like that trauma that I experienced for Chem 1A, and I told myself, ‘This time it’s gonna be different.’”

Four years later, Franco was able to transfer to CSU East Bay and obtain a Master’s in Environmental Geoscience.

Armando Franco hears from a student in an 2015 advertisement for Huckleberry Youth Programs, an organization worked at for ten years. (Photo: Huckleberry Youth Programs)

At the same time, Franco worked at Huckleberry Youth Programs as an Access to College Equity Manager, serving students with counseling and guidance through all the growing pains and difficulties of childhood. He joined Huckleberry the week after wrapping up his time with Making Waves, and stayed there for a decade before joining BCC this spring.

“Things just kinda fell into place,” he said. “[…] I didn’t even take time off. But I loved that job, working with students. The impact that counseling can also have on students. Being there for those moments of crisis that they may be experiencing.”

Now at BCC, Franco plans to integrate those learning environments into BCC, and turn the classroom into a place where students feel comfortable not just as students, but in their personal lives as well.

“I don’t want it to just be like, ‘I’m just gonna focus on your grades and classes, your education plan, and then transfer and then good luck to you,’” he said. “I want to make sure that the student is also taken care of.”

BCC’s Hispanic Serving Institution Director, Lissette Flores, has been a colleague of Franco’s since his time at Huckleberry Youth Programs.

“I think students are very discerning,” she said. “I think that they can see when someone really cares about them and has their best interest in mind. And I think that Armando is that person.”

Franco wants the MESA center to be a fun, comfortable environment for students, bustling with activity. Through the MESA program, he hopes to instill his students with the same confidence that his mother once taught him: that they can persevere through hardships and carve their own paths, on their own terms.

All four Peralta colleges have plans to open their MESA centers, although each is in different stages of development. Laney College launched its own MESA program in April, currently guided by faculty lead Kyla Oh and Laney Dean of Math, Sciences, and Engineering Inger Stark. Once all four programs are up and running, Franco hopes it will feel like “one big MESA center” across four different campuses.

Franco gestures at a blueprint for the MESA Center displayed on his desktop. He is eager to transform the empty classroom into an inviting space for students. (Photo: Desmond Meagley/The Citizen)

Even though he’s just getting started, Franco is confident in his ability to carry out his vision, from the positive interactions he’s had so far with others at BCC. He spoke on how helpful his colleagues have been in helping him get acclimated to his new environment.

“So you know seeing that in action, I like it, it makes me feel like I made a right choice by taking this job,” he said. “And it makes me feel more optimistic and motivated for what’s to come.”

About the Contributor
Ivan Saravia
Ivan Saravia, Staff Writer
Ivan Saravia is a freshman at Peralta, with strong ambitions of becoming a writer. Ever since he was in elementary school, he’s had a deep fascination and desire to understand all the little nuances in language and communication.
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