Student Rising Above Goes From ‘Vagabond’ To College-Bound NASA Intern
EAST PALO ALTO (KPIX 5) – Andre Gomes is only 18-years-old but he already has hands-on experience with rocket science, as an intern at NASA. It was the perfect summer experience for someone like Andre, who wants to be an engineer.
“I want to be able to invent all these things that I think of at night…I want to do that,” said Gomes.
Andre’s assignment was gathering data that will help scientists develop ways to test the stability and balance of drones – those things most of us only see on futuristic commercials.
But Andre’s biggest accomplishment begins this fall, as a kid who spent most of his childhood with no permanent home, he now goes to college.
“Its not just me,” he says. “I’m also carrying the weight of my grandma coming from the Philippines to America and my mom working. The whole dream of my whole family,” he said.
Life was hard when Andre was a little boy. His parent’s fighting led to a split. Andre, along with his hardworking single mom and sister, became what he calls “vagabonds.”
“We like grab our stuff in the car. We’d put it in the trunk and then we’d like drive off and go to one of our cousins, or our aunt’s house and we’d stay there for a little bit and then we would move an then keep moving and it was the same process over and over again.”
He lived like that for seven years.
“I honestly think it affects him more than he’s willing to say,” says his mentor and residential advisor, Josh Specht. “I think that the constantly not knowing where you’re going to eat, where you’re going to sleep, how you’re going to eat, how you’re going to sleep. As a child, that has to affect your view of the world.”
Fast forward now another 7 years to Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, and you can see what changed Andre’s life.
Even though school was out in late June, that was where we met him, filling out applications for his internship and chatting with other students and staff members. He gave us a tour of the dorm, showing us the graduation photos of all the past seniors who graduated and went to college. When he showed us the living room with it’s big screen TV and bank of computers, he said, “probably like here, we had the best memories of my life.”
Eastside is not just a college prep school in the middle of East Palo Alto. It’s a boarding school, like the kind rich kids go to except it’s for low-income kids who are the first in their families to go to college.
“This has been my home for the last 7 years,” said Andre, as he showed us his dorm room.
He is still close to his sister and mom but the stability he found here gave him a different kind of support which he needed.
“I think it meant everything to him,” says Josh. “I think it meant finding a family and finding a place where he belonged maybe for the first time in his life.”
Andre puts it this way: “I got that second family. I got those brothers, like 20 brothers, 20 sisters.”
His anger dissolved and the real Andre emerged- a sweet, happy kid.
“He has such unbridled enthusiasm for the world around him despite everything that has happened,” says Josh. “He still sees the world in such vivid color that he just loves it, and it makes you love him.”
And at Eastside, the possibilities for his future took shape.
“I didn’t actually know what college was before I came to Eastside,” he says. “Now, graduating from high school. I can definitely say that I am going to college, but also I’m going to Boston College! “ he says with pride.
“It’s like the American dream.”