MiraCosta College helped Luis De Luna turn his life around and find his future. Enrolled in the Biomanufacturing Baccalaureate program at the Oceanside Campus with plans to earn a Ph.D. in the molecular sciences, De Luna has now become the first MiraCosta College student to earn the prestigious DREAM Scholar recognition from Achieving the Dream.
De Luna will be honored in Chicago this month at the DREAM annual convening, the national organization’s 2023 signature event.
“Guidance and support had been missing in my life until I connected with the educators here at MiraCosta College, said De Luna. “Being a DREAM scholar is an absolute honor because it means that I finally have gained direction in my life again.”
Achieving the Dream is a nationwide nonprofit that provides integrated, tailored support in guiding community colleges toward sustainable institutional transformation that will improve student success through an equity lens. The DREAM Scholars program is an experiential learning opportunity for community college students designed to enhance leadership, critical thinking, and networking skills. Every year, up to eight DREAM Scholars are selected through a competitive application process to participate in a learning experience that culminates in attending and sharing their experiences at the annual DREAM convening. DREAM Scholars are nominated by their college and selected for their leadership, initiative, and commitment to improving higher education.
“Luis is a burgeoning Latino scientist who has overcome a lot of personal challenges to pursue his education,” said Dr. Barbara Juncosa, a professor of biotechnology who encouraged De Luna to enroll in the baccalaureate program. “He represents the enthusiasm, drive, and grit of our MiraCosta College students.”
Born in San Diego, De Luna grew up in Escondido for most of his childhood and, along with two younger siblings, was raised primarily by his mother. “I was not the easiest kid to take care of, getting in trouble and doing things I shouldn’t have been doing,” he said. “Getting a good education,” he added, “was more of an afterthought than any sort of strategic plan.”
De Luna’s prospects began to change when his family left Escondido for an affordable housing opportunity in Del Mar and he enrolled at Torrey Pines High School. He found teachers who believed in him and his potential, and he took part in the school’s AVID program. But De Luna wasn’t prepared academically or professionally when he arrived at California State University San Marcos. He felt he didn’t belong. He failed nearly every class in his first year. He dropped out with a GPA of 1.23.
“Disheartened and depressed, I considered myself a living failure,” said De Luna, who was preparing to find a job and get on with his life.
Not before giving MiraCosta College a try. During his first semester, he earned his first ‘A,’ which changed his life. With a level of assistance, encouragement, and advocacy that he had never seen before, De Luna shined.
“The old mindset that I had began to grow cracks at the foundation, and with time I realized that I loved learning, especially in the sciences.”
He’s become a scholar, made the President’s List, and was accepted into the Biomanufacturing Baccalaureate program, one of just 15 community college bachelor’s degree programs in California.
“MiraCosta has helped me transform myself,” he continued. “The education is significantly better than what I had experienced anywhere before. The professors are there to teach, they’re there to make sure you get what you need, they’re there for you. Plus, the resources that are available make it so much easier to navigate. Student services, the food pantry, academic support. The STEM Center. The library alone has an infinite number of resources. You have a staff that cares. Plus, it’s definitely a beautiful campus. You can’t get much better than being right next to the ocean.”
The support has him reaching higher than he ever thought possible. Recognition from Achieving the Dream is icing on the proverbial cake.
After earning his bachelor’s degree from MiraCosta College, De Luna plans to a Ph.D. at UC San Diego in molecular sciences. His long-term goal: a career in gene and cell therapies. Or, perhaps, a professorship at MiraCosta College, where he can have the same sort of impact on others that his mentors at the Oceanside and San Elijo campuses had on him.
“I, and a lot of people I know who were unsure of what they wanted to do or where they wanted to go or who they wanted to be, came out of MiraCosta with a strong sense of direction,” he said. “With the cost of tuition for that kind of quality of education, I wouldn't want to belong anywhere else.”