As a sophomore at South High School, Samantha Castro had no clue if she was going to college or what career she would pursue in the future. But three years in the high school’s MS3 program completely changed that. In the fall, Castro will attend the University of California, Berkeley, as a first-generation college student where she plans to study engineering.
“I would not even know what engineering was if it wasn’t for the MS3 program,” said Castro, who added the support she received from her Aera Energy engineer mentors Asim Hayat and Christine Moran helped inspire her decision to pursue a career in engineering. “They were the best mentors ever and I was so lucky to have them. They were there for me every step of the way throughout my high-school career.”
“Samantha is a focused, hardworking and resilient young woman,” said Hayat, who has served as an MS3 mentor for 11 years. “We saw her transform over the course of the last three years. She has a great work ethic and truly leveraged the opportunities that were available to her.”
For more than 20 years, Aera Energy has been a top supporter of the South High program which is dedicated to inspiring careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It’s a critical program at the school, where a vast majority of students come from low-income minority families and may otherwise have limited access to these career options.
In 2020, due to the pandemic, all MS3 mentoring continued in the virtual environment. When it was safe to do so in Kern County, Aera Energy hosted an in-person awards ceremony where students picked up Aera laptop backpacks and water bottles, and seniors received pins and graduation regalia to wear over their robes.
In May, Aera hosted a virtual graduation ceremony with 17 Aera mentors and 49 South High seniors featuring guest speaker Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield). An additional 86 South High sophomores and juniors met in small groups to reflect on the past year together and discuss summer plans.
“Those of us who serve as mentors for the MS3 program at Aera are humbled to assist these students in creating awareness of the many opportunities that are custom made for them and walk them through three years at South High and to give them the confidence that they too can get there like many of us,” Hayat said.
Castro says joining the MS3 program was the best decision she has ever made – thoroughly enjoying the opportunities it provided. She enjoyed the STEM courses, received guidance from her counselor and experienced mentors, and toured colleges through the program. She calls it a “community” that she would not have without MS3 – one that helped pave her future path toward becoming an engineer.
“The best advice I received from my MS3 mentors was to work hard for what you want. This was a very valuable piece of advice that will forever stick with me because nothing in life comes easy,” she said. Castro was also presented with an Aera Energy Scholarship to support her college expenses.