SOLANA BEACH — When Richard Huizar was denied financial aid, he thought the decision would end his dream to become the first in his family to earn a college degree.
But fate intervened and the San Marcos native graduated last month from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering.
“It feels unreal,” he said. “It was absolutely amazing. I still can’t believe all the opportunities.”
The financial assistance denial in 2012 meant he had to decline acceptance to San Diego State University. He enrolled at MiraCosta College.
During his final semester there, he learned he had been accepted to MIT, where annual tuition alone is currently approximately $50,000.
But according to the school website, about seven out of 10 undergraduates earn their degrees debt-free. Huizar said he took out loans mostly to cover housing and food.
“They really take care of their students,” he said, adding that scholarships and summer jobs at the University of California Berkeley, Lockheed Martin and Apple limited his debt at about $20,000.
He earned a grade point average of 4.6 out of 5.
“The last semester was tough,” he said. “But I got all As and Bs.”
Having passed the hiring committee at Google, Huizar said he should hear within the next month or so if he matches with a team to start work there.
Raised in San Marcos, Huizar’s family roots stem back to Eden Gardens, where his grandparents, Eduardo and Conception Huizar, were raised and currently live in the home they purchased nearly 60 years ago.
He credits the support he received from them and other family members for his success.
“I couldn’t have done it without my family,” Huizar said. “My grandparents called me every month and sent a card.”
They were among eight family members who were able to fly to Cambridge for the graduation.
After being accepted to SDSU, Huizar said he initially thought community college would be a step down. Then he met Lisa Montes, MiraCosta’s student services specialist in the Office of School Relations and Diversity Outreach.
He said learning about the opportunities at the Oceanside college changed his perspective.
After doing well in his first-semester classes, Huizar started to rethink his options.
“I looked at MIT but that was just a dream,” he said. “It didn’t seem possible. But Miss Lisa said I should go for those schools. She said I had a chance.
“After my first year, that was my goal,” he added. “I was going to do everything I could to get in.”
Huizar’s efforts seem to have also impacted some of his other relatives.
“It’s great to see how it’s really changed the perspective of my cousins,” he said. “A lot of them are looking a lot higher than they did. It’s encouraged them to go back to school to further their education one way or another, either for a technical degree or a bachelor’s.”
Additionally, Huizar said, furthering his own education is part of the short-term plan.
“It’s been a great process,” he said. “I had a blast. I met people from all over the world who are all superstars in their own right. I would like to go back there to get my master’s. This is definitely not the end.”