Stephen Harris Preston (Rachel Carson '20, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology)

photo of stephan preston laughing in collared shirt with graduate sashBackground: I am the only child of two working-class parents who made me their priority amongst immense financial struggle spanning most of my childhood and adolescence. I come from a small town in Central California where I earned my Eagle Scout.

What Motivated you to go to college?: I've had a lifelong interest in science and a passion for the outdoors! By the time I completed high school, I was desperate to leave my small town and see what else the world had in store!

What's the biggest challenge you encountered as a first-gen student and how did you overcome it?: My mental health quickly deteriorated very early in my college career. Throughout most of my time at UCSC I felt out of place and ill-equipped to prosper in an academic setting of this caliber, despite enjoying great success in high school. Things got easier for me after forming close bonds with my friends and seeking treatment and assistance through CAPS. 

How has your background helped you?: I stay mindful of the struggles my parents endured to ensure I had a shot at a more comfortable future than they had. My gratitude for their sacrifices pushed me through when I felt like I couldn't carry on. Scouting helped teach me to be independent, reliable, and kind to all people. These traits proved to be critical to a successful college experience. 

What would you tell my first-year self now?: Take your time and enjoy every second, prioritize your studies but never lose sight of your immediate surroundings. You won't be on campus forever.

What was the best thing about your college experience?: Becoming part of a worldwide culture that challenges traditional institutions and values knowledge in all forms. Taking in the sights of one of the most beautiful parts of the world surrounded by intelligent and entertaining people!

How has being a first-gen student influenced you (and/or your work) now?: It has made me sensitive to the struggles of the working class and strengthened my desire to see justice in our world. It has kept me humble yet always inspired me to reach higher. Just two months after graduation I am a full-time lab technician at a prominent cannabis laboratory, it all worked out!