UC Santa Barbara undergraduate student Mark Perry has a story to tell. His life before UCSB included drug addiction, prison time and many different jobs. It also included the birth of his lovely daughter. It was at that point 11 years ago that he decided to turn his life around. He has since overcome incredible challenges and worked very hard in his classes, and he is now on his way to becoming a social worker. The 48-year-old UCSB student was born and raised in Ventura and has been making the commute from there to the university for the last two years. However, his story starts much earlier than that.
Mark was first accepted into UCSB in the fall of 1993, but he received a DUI that year and never enrolled. He worked a few jobs and had trouble finding the right path in his early years. “I was around people who were in and out of jail and dealing with court time,” he said. “I myself was in and out of the prison system for some time.” After 24 years out of school, he decided to give it another shot. “I was given one last chance from my parole officer and I took it,” he said. “I went to Ventura Community College and really focused on my studies, got to know professors on a first-name basis and earned good grades.”
With a new lease on life, Mark was accepted to UCSB in fall 2015, as an economics and accounting major. However, he quickly realized that economics might not be for him, so he sought academic advice. It was through a discussion with an adviser that he found the sociology major to be exactly what he needed. Now, 30 years after graduating from high school, Mark will be walking at 2017 Commencement with a 3.78 GPA. “It was a long road for me,” he said, “and to get back to UCSB was an amazing experience.”
Throughout his time as a UCSB student, he was able to develop friendships that went beyond school. To him, that was priceless. “I’m quite grateful for the support I have received from the students, TAs and professors,” he said. “My mentors have been a huge part of my success at UCSB.” As a sociology major, Mark was required to write many papers, something he had previously struggled with. However, he found professors to help guide him. Specifically, he said, “professor Heather Steffen has continued to support and guide me throughout my time at UCSB and beyond.”
What will he miss about campus? “I’ll miss the instructors and the kids the most,” he said. “I had a lot of cool friendships with a lot of young people who are so driven by their aspirations and want to do something with their lives. I truly believe that if one surrounds themselves with people who are going places, then they’ll go with them. I’m so appreciative of the positivity and that everyone is working to make something better. It’s bigger than this campus. UCSB holds a very dear place in my heart, not only (for) the degree but also the camaraderie.”
Outside of school, Mark is a full-time single parent to his 11-year-old daughter, and he enjoys surfing and playing the guitar. He also was involved in UCSB’s Freedom4Youth Advocates program and would like to mentor youth after he receives his Certificate of Rehabilitation from the state of California in eight months. Next year, he’ll be heading to California State University, Northridge, to work toward a master’s degree in social work. He’s excited about the opportunities that await him there, on his continuing academic journey.
Written by Bret Rodriguez