Note: This article is part of the StanGrad series highlighting Stanislaus State students who are part of the Class of 2019. Read more StanGrad profiles.
For most graduating students, a bachelor’s degree represents the future. It’s their ticket to a promising career or the next step in their educational journey. But for Orlando Olivera, the bachelor’s degree he’s earning in sociology also represents years of struggle, his resolve to overcome economic obstacles and the inspiration he drew when he first looked into his newborn son’s eyes.
The son of immigrant parents, Olivera grew up learning the value of hard work. From a young age, he worked to help support his family and eventually landed a full-time job in a warehouse to pay his way through college. That’s when he learned that long hours of physical labor can derail a student’s academic progress. With his grades sliding, he decided to take a few years off from school to focus on work.
When he was ready to return to school with a fresh focus, he suffered a serious knee injury and was derailed once again while he underwent surgery and physical therapy. After recuperating, he made other attempts to return to college, but always ran into obstacles. These failed attempts made him feel defeated, conquered by self-doubt.
“That was until my son was born, at which point my excuses no longer had validity,” Olivera said. “I was determined to finish what I started; money, work, time and injuries were no longer going to be my downfall.”
With fresh determination and the support of his wife and child, Olivera enrolled at Stan State and found the encouragement he needed to stay focused on his studies. For the last four semesters, he’s earned a spot on the Dean’s List. He credits faculty in the Department of Sociology — particularly Yvette Jean and Tyler Schaffer — for challenging him academically and helping him build the confidence to excel.
Among the many lessons Olivera has learned at Stan State, tenacity is among the most valuable. He learned to never give up on his dreams. As he looks toward pursuing a teaching credential, he hopes to help others pursue their dreams, too.
“Much of our region seems to be deteriorating, but it’s not a hopeless situation,” he said. “Whether it’s teaching, or social work, I hope to have an impact that will help those in need.”
Bachelor of Arts in Sociology
What memories stand out most from your time at Stanislaus State?
“The first day back after being away from school for five years is a pretty special and memorable moment for me. There was no better feeling than sitting in class with a sense of determination and realizing I’m going to see this through to the end. The other moment that stands out for me is when I picked up my cap and gown. Holding that graduation package with a sense of accomplishment is a memory that will stick with me forever.”
Which faculty or staff member had the greatest impact on you, and why?
“I can’t say enough good things about the Sociology Department. As a whole, they were a big reason for my success and continued growth as a student and a person. The two professors that stand out above the rest for me are Dr. Tyler Schafer and Dr. Yvette Jean. Professor Schafer was my advisor and I had one sociology course with him. He challenged all his students to do better and made me a better sociologist for it. Professor Jean may be the most compassionate teacher I have ever had. She provides a unique teaching style that allows her students to develop and really become passionate about each subject. I will always treasure her as a teacher but maybe more so as a human being.”
What advice would you give current and future students?
“I would tell future students not to take the experience for granted. Two or four years plus may seem like a long time, but it really flies by. Obviously learning and furthering your education is a priority, but there is also plenty of opportunity to make new friends and socialize.”
What can you tell us about your student and life experiences at Stan State that could serve as an inspiration to current and future students?
“College can be very difficult, but no matter what don’t give up. After so many trials and tribulations I began to feel discouraged and beaten. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to finish school. There are thousands of other students that may have similar experiences to you; reaching out to them may be the inspiration you need to finish school.”
How do you plan to use your Stan State degree to advance and/or improve life in our region?
“I plan to further my education and pursue my teaching credential. Hopefully I can influence other students and children about the importance of an education. I also plan to focus on those less fortunate, especially children that haven’t had a great opportunity growing up.”