Noah Saeedy
Noah Saeedy

In the summer of 1999, Noah Saeedy, was a soon-to-be junior year at a California high school who spent two weeks at the University of New Mexico as part of the LA Works Program based out of Los Angeles. In conjunction with LA works, Saeedy participated in the UNM College Prep Programs (CPP) led at that time by former director of UNM Recreational Services, Fred Perez. Saeedy’s participation in both programs changed his life.

Today, Saeedy gives back to CPP and LA Works, which he credits for not only leading him to college, but for giving him the tools to succeed. This year he served as a chaperone for LA Works and came back to UNM. “In high school, I tested poorly in English and math and was therefore placed in special education classes,” Saeedy said. “I was told not to worry about college because I probably wouldn’t ever make it there.”

Regardless of his test scores, and being the oldest of his two siblings — both of whom tested at the opposite end of the spectrum and were placed in “gifted” classes — Noah decided he was not going to be the first one not to go to college. “My parents did everything they could to help me, but they didn’t understand the United States system well enough to advocate for me,” he said.

It wasn’t until his trip to New Mexico — a place he had only flown over before — that he was excited about the possibility of college. “UNM could see that my test scores were not in line with who I am and they let me know I had rights,” he said. “The UNM College Prep Program opened up a lot of doors for me.”

Rosa Cervantes, current director of UNM College Prep Programs, said that part of their mission is to ensure that participants can see themselves as college students someday. “We encourage them and let them know that they can forge their own paths and don’t have to accept what’s been handed to them,” she said.

CPP provides seamless support for students to develop the skills necessary to pursue post-secondary education and promote retention through supportive programs and advancement of graduate programs.

“We have families from various economic and ethnic backgrounds. Some of our students have learning disabilities or language barriers,” Cervantes said. “In College Prep we stress to the participants that although they might not all have the same prior experiences, they do all have the same opportunities from this point forward.”

Saeedy recalls the first day of the program and how Perez asked participants to describe themselves using a word that began with the first letter of their name. “I remembered Fred talking about his own situation and how he was the ‘non-conformist’ son of illegal immigrants who came here, and how he eventually went to Harvard,” Saeedy said. “That day I chose to describe myself as ‘Non-conformist Noah’ and decided I was not going to be bound by my disability.” Saeedy added that he still references Perez’ speech in talks he gives to his own students.

Throughout his time in CPP, Saeedy was assigned to work with UNM Air Force ROTC under the direction of Col. Ken Levesque, then commanding officer. Levesque let Saeedy know what he needed to do when he got back to California regarding advanced placement class testing and community college options.

Subsequently, Saeedy returned to California and began his junior year in high school in advanced placement courses and eventually graduated with a ROTC scholarship for the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Because of the scholarship and his desire to live near family, Saeedy attended UCLA, otherwise he would have considered attending UNM. After graduation, he commissioned as an officer in the United States Air Force.

After several tours with the Air Force, Saeedy now works as an ROTC instructor in California and can see a lot of himself in the students he advises. He has a particular motivation to work with the special education population and stresses the importance of guiding them to college and making sure they know about their options.

This summer was the first time Saeedy returned to the UNM campus since he was a participant in CPP. Although he said that the campus has changed, he still has many memories of his time here. “It felt like coming back home after a long time,” he said. “Even if I only spent two weeks on the UNM campus back in 1999, those two weeks had an impact on my entire life and career.”

For more information about the UNM College Prep Programs, please visit: CEOP or call 277-0401, and visit LA Works Program or call (323) 224-6510.

Media Contact: Carolyn Gonzales (505) 277-5920; email: cgonzal@unm.edu