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ASU senior gets an invitation to the White House

October 05, 2010

An ASU senior has scored a coveted request: an invitation to appear at the White House. Albert Ojeda, political science major and aspiring law student, was in Washington, D.C. to participate in the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges on Oct. 5.

Ojeda was even asked to make opening remarks at the summit and to introduce Jill Biden, community college professor and wife of Vice President Joe Biden. As second year transfer student to ASU from Estrella Mountain Community College, Ojeda made an impression on Biden last May when he spoke at a round-table session she attended.

Biden had been in Tempe on a fact-finding mission for the summit. She came to learn about the Maricopa-ASU Pathways Program, or MAPP, which helps students make easier transitions from the Maricopa Community College system to ASU. As she planned the summit she thought of the impact of Ojeda's story.

“It feels surreal,” says Ojeda, as he planned his trip to Washington. “A lot of people are excited for me, especially my aunt and uncle. They’re also coming on the trip.”

His aunt and uncle adopted him when he was six years old, after his father died and his mother became addicted to drugs and went to prison. After he graduated from Peoria High School, they encouraged him when he struggled to find a direction for his life.

“It was tough, the transition from high school, and I was just trying to get by day to day. A year and a half later I enrolled at Estrella Community College, and once I was there I realized they offered programs and opportunities I didn’t know about. The first semester I got all As and one B, and I thought, ‘Wow, I can do this.’ I graduated with the highest distinction.

“When Dr. Biden was here, I talked about why I went to community college, how it prepared me for the university, and the different programs they offer that helped me out. I had good advisers who helped me focus on how I could transfer to ASU.”

The MAPP provides Maricopa Community College students a sequence of lower-division coursework that will lead to an ASU undergraduate degree. Students who earn an associate’s degree with the requisite GPA within three years are guaranteed admission to ASU and are charged a tuition rate in accordance with the year they entered the program.

“There were a lot of odds against me, but I’ve been blessed to have the opportunities I’ve had,” says Ojeda, who is enrolled in Barrett, the Honors College as well as the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “ASU has been great. I meet frequently with my mentor, Kent Hopkins (ASU vice provost for enrollment management). He keeps after me to make sure my grades stay up.”

Ojeda is one of only about 100 participants invited to the summit, which brought together community college administrators and faculty, business and philanthropic leaders, as well as federal and state policy leaders. Only a few students were in attendance.

He got to meet President Barack Obama, who mentioned Ojeda in his speech as "representative of so many students acros the country." Biden called him "amazing."

Participants included Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen; and Melinda Gates, co-chair and trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The opening session of the summit was streamed live on the White House Website. Ojeda's remarks at the podium were front and center.

As a new student worker in ASU undergraduate admissions, Ojeda will be back at work this week, assisting staff with visits and presentations at community colleges. On Thursday he’ll be back in class, taking notes, writing papers. He’ll be coming back to earth.