- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Brandon Alvarez-Carrera says his mom isn’t shy when it comes to bragging about him. It’s easy to see why — the 17-year-old earned standout grades and took honors classes at Madison East High School, and this fall he will become the first member of his family to attend college as he starts his freshman year at UW-Madison.

But when Alvarez-Carrera found out he was going to the White House to take part in First Lady Michelle Obama’s Beating the Odds Summit celebrating college-bound students from across the country, his mother had even more to brag about.

“She literally told everyone. Like, everyone she met,” Alvarez-Carrera said.

He made the trip last week, attending the summit on Thursday and hearing from several college students who had overcome challenges to earn their educations. Alvarez-Carrera also listened to a speech from Michelle Obama, and got to see President Barack Obama when he dropped in for a surprise visit to the summit.

Speaking by phone from Washington D.C., Alvarez-Carrera said he particularly connected with a speaker who had background similar to his: Another child of immigrant parents who saw college as a way to “change a family within one generation.”

The 130 students who attended the event came from a variety of backgrounds — some were from cities, others rural areas, some were homeless or in foster care.

Two of them, Alvarez-Carrera and Miriam Burgos-Febus of Milwaukee, were graduates of UW-Madison’s Pre-college Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence, or PEOPLE program.

All of the students at the summit had made it to college despite the adversity they faced.

For Alvarez-Carrera, who grew up on Madison’s North Side, that meant starting elementary school while he was still learning English and having to work hard to catch up with his classmates.

“I needed more help as a younger kid, but that doesn’t really stop me from learning,” he said.

Things got easier in middle school, and by the time Alvarez-Carrera was at East High School he was loading up on honors and Advanced Placement classes.

Starting this fall, he will study engineering physics at UW-Madison, with plans to continue his education well beyond a bachelor’s degree.

Alvarez-Carrera has long been on a path toward UW — he has taken part in the PEOPLE program since sixth grade, working with other young students of color from around Wisconsin to get ready for college and immerse themselves in campus life each summer.

When Alvarez Carrera starts his undergraduate career this fall, he will do so alongside scores of friends and fellow graduates of the PEOPLE program.

And unlike plenty of other freshmen, Alvarez-Carrera says he won’t be intimidated by going to school at UW-Madison — after all, it’s in his hometown, and is on the campus he’s been visiting for years.

“I’ve been looking forward to it for a very long time,” he said.

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(c)2015 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

Visit The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) at www.wisconsinstatejournal.com

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