From DREAMer to inspiration

Erika Cisneros overcomes obstacles and helps others do the same.


Photo by Manny Rodriguez, courtesy of Erika Cisneros

Erika Cisneros (left) works at one of her homeless drives in 2019 at Saint James Park in San Jose. She holds the hand of a homeless woman who reaches out to thank her for the sleeping bag.

Michael Benedian, Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a new continuing series called “Where are they now?” Experience reporters connect with former students to find out what they are doing now and how their educational journey at LMC impacted their success.

Everyone has a dream they are working toward, but it can be tough for immigrants who don’t have the help they need to achieve it. Erika Cisneros was in a situation like this, but with the help of her professors, she now has the footing to make her dream possible.

Cisneros was a 13-year-old when her family came to the United States from Mexico, moving all around California before settling down in Antioch. When she attended high school, her English-speaking skills weren’t strong enough and money issues made it difficult for Cisneros to pursue a college degree right out of high school. It was by chance she saw an opportunity to attend Los Medanos College.

“I heard on the radio station that people like me — people that were immigrants — that they could actually go to college,” Cisneros said. “There was something called AB540, you could apply to and that way you wouldn’t have to pay for tuition that much.”

She attended LMC from 2013 to 2018, pursuing a psychology major, then transferred to UC Davis to complete her degree. Cisneros said her background and experiences inspired her to pursue psychology.

“I was bullied in school. I was raised by a single mom because my dad abandoned our family when I was little … I was discriminated in school by school faculty,” she said. “I have always had this way of thinking where I don’t think that people are either bad or good, I feel the actions that they take are coming from somewhere, and I always just wanted to understand where they were coming from and how their mind works.”

Cisneros initially struggled in college because of her limited English, which made it difficult to write essays. But she didn’t let it stop her. 

Professor Katie Berryhill recalled having Cisneros as a student in the spring of 2016 when she enrolled in her introductory course in astronomy.

She was one of the few students who regularly came to my office hours. She made use of every opportunity I provided for students to improve their understanding,” said Berryhill.

LMC holds a special place in Cisneros’s heart, and she said it’s due to the professors who care about their students and are supportive.

Cisneros has since graduated from UC Davis with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in sociology. Her next goal is to attend graduate school and pursue a doctorate in psychology. 

She currently juggles two positions: one as a member of the board of directors for the nonprofit Yolo Crisis Nursery and the other for the organization Analytical Behavior Consultants.

The nonprofit Yolo Crisis Nursery helps children in crisis by providing protection from neglect and child abuse. It also provides families with resources they need to help their children grow and remain healthy and safe.

Cisneros got the opportunity to work with the group when the nonprofit reached out to her after seeing a video she posted for her scholarship talking about her goals and what her education meant to her.

Cisneros’s other position as a member of the organization Analytical Behavior Consultants allows her to work with children who struggle with learning, behavior and language.

Cisneros has been involved with a project for six years helping the homeless by providing resources they can’t afford, such as clothes and food.

She created this project during her time at LMC when she wrote an essay on social responsibility and the issue with homelessness. She plans on turning it into a nonprofit but still has no official name for it.

Cisneros credits this project to former LMC professor Linda Stingily, who died in 2018. She was a student in Stingily’s class at the time, and it was Stingily who inspired Cisneros to turn her words into action.

“It was the first time that somebody made me feel like as an individual that I had power to change things in society,” she said.

Cisneros hopes to serve as an inspiration to DREAMers like her so those who are going through struggles similar to her own know it’s possible to succeed.