ASI President Uriah Sanders knows what hardship feels like, what it’s like to go without enough food or have reliable transportation. And he’s determined to make a difference, both on campus and beyond.
“I want to do whatever I can do to make the world a better place,” says Sanders, a junior majoring in biotechnology.
His current path seems natural for him, but Sanders is quick to point out that his motivation did not always come so easily.
During most of his time in high school, he was an excellent student and eager to learn. But before the start of his junior year, his family had some life struggles and were forced to move. Sanders decided he needed to become financially independent.
Sanders came up with an idea to start a web-based business, to support creative brainstorming and innovation. It would exist as a tight-knit community where participants would assist each other through the process of developing new ideas and seeing them through to creation and marketing the final product.
His passion for it soon consumed him and his grades started to fall.
“One reason I started the business was to help change things for me financially,” Sanders says. “But the main reason I put so much time in the idea was I thought it could positively impact the world.”
Concerned about how much time he spent on his business and how little effort he was putting into school, Sanders’ mother began limiting his access to a computer. Sanders retaliated by focusing less on school, and his GPA dropped from a 4.0 to a 2.3 for that year.
“The main reason I stopped seeing the value of school was the notion that my success would come through my new online company idea,” Sanders says. “I started to not like school, and did not want to go to college because I thought I could achieve something better with my business. I felt like school was more about getting a job than being passionate about learning or making the world a better place.”
Blessing in Disguise
His business did not ultimately succeed, but the failure ended up being a blessing in disguise. Although he still believed that his online business would be his path to success, Sanders visited a college campus.
“I changed my mind about education when I visited a university for the first time and saw people actually enthusiastic about learning itself,” Sanders says. “I also found others wanting to make a difference in the world. After this visit, I then decided to go to college.”
That experience motivated him to return to his high academic potential. He received a 4.0 his senior year.
Sanders applied to Cal Poly Pomona as a biotechnology student. Once accepted, he became involved in the Science Educational Enhancement Services (SEES) program, which is designed to help students succeed and excel in the College of Science. He credits the SEES program with providing him with the tools and resources to do well academically.
“Uriah is a shining example of a successful SEES student,” says Steve Alas, biological sciences professor and director of the SEES program. “Not only does Uriah help with the program, he also mentors and tutors other students. He is passionate about making a difference.”
Sanders discovered that his passion to make a difference and his education aligned well together. He chose biotechnology because of the impact it has on the fields of health, energy, and sustainability.
“My major is solutions-orientated,” Sanders says. “What I learn in the classroom helps me discover ways to tackle everyday science problems, like chronic disease. I think the ability to solve complex problems is incredibly useful at any level.”
Although Sanders enjoyed the start of his academic career, he wanted to get more involved. He ran for ASI president his freshman year. When his first bid for president was unsuccessful, he committed himself to one ASI cabinet and three club board positions. At the end of his sophomore year spring quarter, he ran for office again.
He started an ambitious campaign for ASI President and signed up for a new business venture. He fell into the common trap of ‘attempting to do it all’ without relying on others help.
Sanders wasn’t sleeping or eating enough and he was spending all of his money on transportation to and from school. When his schoolwork started taking a hit due to all of his commitments, Sanders knew he needed to make a change.
Instead of continuing to hide his challenges, he finally let others into what he was going through. He is thankful to his professors and staff who stepped forward after he asked for help.
“I learned that it is okay to share with others that I am struggling and not suffer in silence,” Sanders says. “I was also reminded that if I ignore problems, they only get worse. It is always better to be honest with yourself and others when you are struggling.”
His sophomore year of struggles also gave him one of the key issues of focus for his presidential campaign — to help students who could also be going through hardships. It paid off and he was elected ASI President for the 2016-17 academic year.
“I ran because I wanted to implement my ideas for improving the university,” Sanders says. “I have struggled getting to school because I didn’t have a car and commuted several hours each day. Sometimes I would also go without enough food simply because I ran out of money and time. As a student who has struggled being in college, I want to help minimize barriers students might have so they can be successful.”
Cora Culla, ASI executive director, says Sanders is a huge advocate for students
“He will undoubtedly focus his leadership on genuine outreach to students and representation of their needs at the campus and system-wide levels,” she says.
When not busy running student government, Sanders can be found in the biology lab researching plant genetics. He also runs a startup company called the Dream Factory, which maintains a website that connect customers with artisans who sell custom artwork.
He says the educational experiences he’s having at Cal Poly Pomona have helped him chart his path forward.
“I appreciate CPP’s learn-by-doing philosophy as well as the quality of education,” adds Sanders. “The faculty and students continually teach me to not only think outside the box, but also the value of putting yourself out there to make a difference. I see this example every day on campus.”
Sanders political aspirations go beyond Cal Poly Pomona. He hopes to run the nation’s highest office, he says.
“I want to be President of the United States because I want to be in a position that gives me the most opportunity to make the world a better place,” Sanders says. “I believe that there are solutions to the ongoing problems we face and I look forward to solving them when I do everything I can to help save the world.”