Teresa Faasolo

Merrill, computer engineering

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Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta
Teresa Faasolo decided to study computer engineering because she was good at math and highly interested in computers.

But she had no idea how difficult the major would be at UC Santa Cruz. Her experience with coding was limited to Scratch, a programming language geared for children. At the university, she was surrounded by people who were entering coding competitions in high school.

“I didn’t realize I was so disadvantaged,” said Faasolo, who grew up in East Palo Alto.

She knew she needed help, and she got it at the Multicultural Engineering Program (MEP), which provides support for first-generation college students from low-income families. Through assistance with the program, her grades in computer courses improved and her confidence grew.

“I understood what I was coding and what I was doing,” she said.

The students at MEP provided emotional support and network connections, and gave her much-needed advice on the right contacts and how to optimize her time.

“It was great to learn from seniors or basically anyone who took a class before I was going to take that class,” she said. “MEP is like a family to me. They are always there.”

Faasolo said it was helpful that she did summer internships—including under the College Track and Emerson Collective First Gen program. Those experiences led to her getting a part-time job as a digital marketing intern with EdLyft, a website that offers tutoring and mentoring for computer science students. Faasolo wrote social media posts, interviewed students about their experiences, and looked over the company’s content. She has been offered an extension of her EdLyft job. She is also looking into other possibilities and is planning to apply for a full-time position as a hardware engineer.

Her father, a retired sheet metal worker, and her mother, a private caregiver, are thrilled with her success, as is the rest of her close-knit Tongan and Samoan community. It has been hard for her to explain to them what her college experience has been like because they’ve never been through it. Most of her family members are construction workers, business owners, or government employees.

“I’m the first computer engineer in the family—even in the extended family,” she said.