For first-generation low-income students, college can be a dream they don't believe they can achieve. But at UC Santa Barbara, 100 high school students from Ventura to Santa Barbara County got a chance to hear how some successful people overcame the odds.
For many of the students, Friday morning was the first time they've ever stepped foot on a university campus, and that can be a little daunting. But the "Barrio to Academia" conference was tailored to ease all their fears.
Connecting with students can be a challenge, especially when it comes to helping them believe that college is an achievable dream.
The first speaker to take the stage was Dr. Victor Rios, a sociology professor at UCSB.
"They walk in, they see me and they see me in a coat. I'm this college professor and they say who's this nerd talking to me?" said Dr. Rios.
But the students might have more in common with Rios than they first think.
"From drug abuse in the family to physical abuse to being in the extreme depths of poverty and then finding my way out," he explained.
After his story, the students connected.
"It gives me a little bit of hope that I can make it. If they can do it, I can probably do it," said Julian Barba, a Santa Barbara High student.
"I can relate to them, that's good. It makes me feel better like, 'Oh he knows what i'm talking about. I'm not alone,'" said Megan Ortega, a Santa Barbara High student.
The event is hosted by the Lambda Theta Alpha sorority and Lambda Theta Phi fraternity. The two groups raised $6,000 to pay for everything.
Seven years ago, Jaime Carias started the program. He grew up collecting cans with his mom at the USC campus in Los Angeles and told her he wanted to go to school there.
"And my mom looked at me dead in the face and told me, 'Mijo, no tenemos dinero mandar te aca.' Son, we don't have money to send you here. And like I tell youth today, my mom wasn't lying to me, she was telling me the truth because we didn't have the money. But what my mom didn't know [was] all the resources that we have that are available to our youth," he said.
Carias wants students to know exactly what those resources are, so they too can achieve their dreams just like he did. He graduated with is master's degree from USC.
At the end of the conference, organizers hoped the students went home inspired to graduate from high school and become college-bound.