"I found an amazing community of support in them just by asking for help."
Francisco, Stanford University

Francisco Guzman

Hometown: Elizabeth, NJ

Stanford University

I was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to the states just as I was turning five. Like many immigrants, our move was motivated by the possibility of a better life; the American dream. While I was excited about the move, I was old enough to recognize the challenges this “new world” would bring. For one, my mom and I didn’t know the language. I vividly remember my mom having a hard time enrolling me in school because she didn’t know English. I told my mom not to worry – that one day I would learn the language and help her understand the world around us. The culture was also incredibly different. While most Dominicans spend their time outdoors, interacting with neighbors and passerby’s, we were now enclosed in our apartment and didn’t have anyone to visit. My mom focused on work, she found a job at an airline packaging food, and I focused on school; my mom instilled in me the importance of education.

As I got older, I discovered my joint interest in the arts and sciences. I grew up loving to draw, writing poetry and making my own music (I credit that to my Dominican heritage – we’re always dancing). My interest in the humanities manifested itself in classes where it may not seem directly applicable. For example, I would spend hours figuring out how to best lay out my posters for the science fair. At the same time, I was enamored by technology. I got my first desktop as a hand-me-down from my cousin in sixth grade, and I couldn’t help but take it apart to understand what was inside. A couple years later I had the opportunity to attend a technology focused high school, where I got my first introduction to computer programming. As the time for applying to college drew closer, I felt conflicted – would I decide to pursue the arts or the sciences? Our family was poor, and after reviewing salaries for different jobs online, I felt it would be irresponsible not to choose the science. Little did I know that I wouldn’t have to decide.

I remember receiving a letter from QuestBridge the summer of my junior year in high school. At first I thought it was spam, but I’m so grateful it wasn’t. I learned of what would become by alma mater, Stanford, on the website.

Stanford was difficult for me at the beginning. There were of course, all of the things one deals with when going to college, especially when you move across the country – new place, new friends, and much more responsibility. But being the first in my family to go to college meant many other things: what should I major in? What classes should I take? How do I interact with people from more privileged backgrounds? I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. Little things like learning what silverware to use were constantly in the back of my mind.

I didn’t do well in math my first quarter; it’s easy to feel alone and that maybe I wasn’t cut out for the work. I couldn’t really talk to my family about this, but thankfully I found mentors in the people around me – my peers, advisors and professors. I found an amazing community of support in them just by asking for help. That is a lesson that is now ingrained in me.

Through them I ended up learning more about myself and my learning style, so I ended up doing much better in my classes. Many conversations help orient me to how I should be thinking about my classes, my major, and more importantly, how to take advantage of this amazing opportunity I had been given. I’m so incredibly grateful to them – I even ended up staying at Stanford for a Masters.

I now work at a startup, designing interfaces primarily for mobile devices. I get to work at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. It’s crazy to think that my role today didn’t even exist when I was applying to college.

There have been many steps along the way that make me feel like I did when I first moved to this country. Moving across the country and starting college was as much of a shock to my system as moving to the U.S. was. I’d say the same for when I started a Master’s program. Now, I’m working in the ‘real world’ and figuring out what that means. It’s so incredibly unstructured and it can be daunting, but the same system of support helps me tackle these challenges.


Written by Francisco Guzman, Stanford University '12, as a part of the QuestBridge Storytelling Week in April 2017.

For more stories like this, please visit QuestBridge Storytelling.