Mike Manalo-Pedro wears many hats in his role as coordinator of Undocumented Student Services.
He is part advisor, part mentor and part confidante for the approximately 600 self-reported AB-540 students at Cal Poly Pomona, many of them undocumented. AB 540 is a state law exempting eligible students from paying non-resident tuition.
Manalo-Pedro (’07, behavioral science; gender, ethnic and multicultural studies) took on the role in August and says he feels happy to be back on the campus he once called home.
“I always had an eye on Cal Poly Pomona,” he says. “It was always in the back of my mind that when I wanted to come back to higher education, that Cal Poly Pomona would be a good place.”
First, the Chino Hills native had to go out and find his calling after graduation. He worked for a social service agency that assists Filipino Americans and later earned a master’s degree in Asian American studies at San Francisco State. Feeling homesick for Southern California, he returned to take a post with Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a Los Angeles-based civil rights organization.
“I got more plugged into immigrant work there,” he says. “When DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was created in 2012, it was one of the first organizations to enroll people into the program. We were working with people directly in the community.”
DACA is an immigration policy launched during the Obama administration that allows undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation.
Manalo-Pedro, who is working toward a doctorate in educational leadership at UCLA, returned to Cal Poly Pomona as an adjunct professor teaching Asian American history from 2012 to 2013.
“I love teaching,” Manalo-Pedro says, adding that he most recently taught a class at Cal State Fullerton. “Working directly with students is something I’m really passionate about.”
He decided that he wanted to combine his love of working with students with his zeal for working on social justice issues. When the coordinator post at Cal Poly Pomona was advertised, he knew he had to apply.
Byron Howlett, associate vice president and dean of students, says that the need to have someone designated to assist undocumented students is critical.
“It really does take a full-time designated individual to help begin to meet the various needs of our undocumented students,” Howlett says. “I think Mike is doing an incredible job thus far. He hit the ground running by meeting with students, faculty, staff, administrators and community members to get a clear grasp of the issues facing Cal Poly Pomona undocumented students and how to help address their needs.”
The biggest issue that undocumented students face is financial hardship, according to Manalo-Pedro. Undocumented students are not eligible for federal financial aid and many have to pay out-of-state tuition.
Manalo-Pedro says he has known students who have had to take a quarter and work so that they could pay tuition.
Another concern is safety, especially in the current political climate, he says.
“The fear is still a reality,” he says. “Some students are being strategic in coming out. We want to make sure we continue to have safe spaces on campus and that they feel the campus is an open place for undocumented students.”