First-generation student and dad of three earns computer science degree, credits family with helping him succeed

| May 14, 2020

Originally from Bogota in Colombia, dad of three Alexander Reyes transferred to USC after earning an associate degree from community college and several years working in the IT field.

Alexander Reyes (left) and with his family: his wife Marcella and kids clockwise Daniel, Jonathan and Isaac. Photos/Alexander Reyes.

Alexander Reyes (left) and with his family: his wife Marcella and kids clockwise Daniel, Jonathan and Isaac. Photos/Alexander Reyes.

There may be no walk across the stage on May 15, 2020, but Alexander Reyes’ wife and three children will be by his side, as always, when USC holds its online graduation ceremony on Friday.

On that day, Reyes, who is originally from Bogota in Colombia, will become the first person in his family to graduate from college. But he likely won’t be the last. His three kids, aged 3, 7, and 9, are already excited about the gadgets he builds for them at home.

“It’s beautiful—I’ve realized, without knowing it, you can inspire other people through your actions and determination,” said Reyes, who is 37.

“My kids see the effort I’m putting in, they see the kinds of things I’m able to build using my skills, and that pushes them in the right direction.”

A dream fulfilled

Alexander Reyes transferred to USC after earning an associate degree from community college and several years working in the IT field. He wanted to “push his brain to a new level,” he said, and fulfill his dream of earning his bachelor’s degree in computer science.

“It’s beautiful—I’ve realized, without knowing it, you can inspire other people through your actions and determination.” Alexander Reyes.

“Growing up in Colombia, I always dreamed of going to university in a different country,” said Reyes.

When he moved to Los Angeles in 2007, after taking English classes, he joined the Los Angeles Trade Tech community college and earned his associate’s degree in computer information systems. During this time, he met and married his wife, Marcella, and had three boys, Daniel, Jonathan and Isaac.

After graduating from the community college, he worked as a mobile app developer, but wanted to dive more in-depth into computer programming and coding.

“My uncle, who sponsored me to come to America, has always championed me,” said Reyes.

“He told me I should apply to USC, and that is was a good school. So, I did.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

In 2017, 10 years after coming to Los Angeles, he was accepted as a transfer student to computer science at USC. While studying, he worked 20 hours a week on campus to support his family. It wasn’t always easy, admits Reyes.

“At first, I didn’t think the course would be a challenge for me, because I was always good at school and math,” said Reyes. “Boy, was I wrong.”

“The engineering classes are tough, and I was supporting my family and my mom. I’m in classes with students who are a lot younger and might not have the same responsibilities at home. But I wanted to be immersed in that environment and, out of that challenge, came the thrill of succeeding.”

The joy of victory

After a tough first semester, Reyes found his footing and eventually made it onto the dean’s list twice—news which he immediately shared with his uncle, who still follows his progress.

“An ‘A’ grade really means something when you’ve worked so hard for it,” said Reyes. “USC introduced me for the first time to the joy of victory.”

Now a resident of Long Beach, CA, Reyes is currently applying for software development positions and growing his own startup business. On Friday, during the online graduation celebration, he and his family plan to dress up and watch the broadcast ceremony on their TV at home.

“I feel like I need to succeed to thank the people who have been there for so long, pushing me,” said Reyes.

“Last week, when I was overwhelmed with one of the programming assignments, my mom stayed up all night praying for me. I have to honor her and to show all these years of support has led to something. I want to work hard to be able to show my wife and kids a different type of life—like something from a dream.” 

While he would not rule out going back to university for grad school, for now, he wants to focus on his career and spending time with his kids. His advice for future graduates?

“Do your best for your family because when you do, you will become the best version of yourself, and that benefits everyone.”

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