Athziri, Class of 2013

Athziri, Class of 2013

Begin with the End in Mind

They say committing 99% to anything is difficult, but applying that extra 1% makes the journey feel almost easy. It was during her sixth-grade year at Nativity Prep that Athziri Arcos Chavelas leaned in with that extra one percent; which started her journey to eventually graduate from UC Merced with an undergraduate degree in Biology in 2021. “My parents always expected me to graduate college, but it didn’t seem real when I was at Sherman Elementary. Looking back, sixth grade was a monumental year for me.” Athziri shared, “As an entering sixth grader, I was overwhelmed with the expectations and long school days/year at Nativity Prep, but after just a few weeks I felt the deep support of the teachers. And I was surrounded by like-minded students who looked like me. I started to identify myself as a bright student. It was during Career Day in sixth grade when I spoke to both a professional scientist and a doctor that it clicked. I saw myself working in the sciences, and studying was the path that would get me there. From then on, it became easier.”

Athziri and her mother at graduation from Nativity Prep Academy in 2013

Mr. and Mrs. Arcos Chavelas always expected their four children to graduate college as they knew it would create a life of greater opportunity for them. Mr. Arcos has worked in manual labor and construction since he graduated from middle school. Athziri is the second oldest, and the first child in the family to graduate college. “I know my younger sister, now a sophomore at Cal State San Marcos, and my younger brother Robert, going into his freshman year at Cristo Rey High School, have watched my journey and can now see themselves graduating college.”

Athziri as a student at Nativity Prep Academy

Athziri struggled with math as an entering sixth grader at Nativity Prep in 2010. But she knew that working in the sciences would involve becoming proficient in all math subjects. “Mr. Solis, Nativity Prep’s middle school math teacher at the time, took me under his wing, he taught me to focus on the fundamentals. I started feeling like I was capable of not just my current math class, but believing I could handle future math subjects too.” Through the recommendation of Nativity Prep’s Graduate Support Program, Athziri chose Health Sciences Charter High School, where she would study alongside fellow future healthcare workers and scientists. “All students at Health Sciences High worked multiple internships. I worked at a hospital as a nurse’s assistant and then helped a Pathologist in the lab. Though my parents really wanted me to become a doctor, I really enjoyed the research side of healthcare, and organizing and storing specimens. I envisioned working in a lab after college.” Athziri’s 3.8 cumulative GPA in high school, combined with her solid ACT score, her participation with the Girls Varsity Volleyball team, and being an active member of the Book Club, earned her admittance into seven out of the eight colleges she applied to in 2017. Thanks to a substantial financial aid package from UC Merced, the choice was easy: “Two of my best friends also accepted their offer to UC Merced, one from Health Sciences High, and the other from my class at Nativity Prep, Vivian*. And there were a handful of other Nativity Prep graduates at Merced. We were like a posse. We supported each other all four years, socially and academically. Since I excelled in STEM subjects, I would tutor them when they needed guidance.” In order to cover her rent and food costs, Athziri worked as a barista at a UC Merced coffee shop, and worked at Jack in the Box in the summers. She also took classes every summer to ensure she would graduate in four years. “Outside of donating blood a few times a year, and my job, I was pretty focused on studying.” shared Athziri. “Since I graduated in 2021, we didn’t have a normal college graduation, so I didn’t get to walk up and receive my diploma, but my parents threw me a special graduation dinner. They were so proud of me and my major accomplishment; it was for my entire family.” Athziri shared, “Since I stayed connected to Nativity Prep throughout my journey, they knew I wanted to work for a biotech company in San Diego. Mr. Rafael Alvarez, husband of Ms. Josie Alvarez, who works in Nativity Prep’s Graduate Support Program, introduced me to one of his former students working for a local biotech firm, Wuxi App Tech. I had multiple job offers, but I accepted the position at Wuxi where I am working in the lab.” When asked what she is going to treat herself to with her first paycheck, Athziri smiled and shared, “You’ll find me in a bookstore, loading up on new, not used books. And I’ll have bags of clothes by my feet, because I love to shop.”