For many enterprising first-generation undergraduates, UCI’s selective Paul Merage School of Business is the key to upward mobility. No. 31 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of best business programs, it admits just a few hundred of about 11,000 applicants each year. These exceptional students learn the critical thinking, communication and leadership skills that can make the American dream a reality. Here are the stories of three freshmen:
As a junior professional cyclist representing the U.S. in tournaments from Belgium to the Bahamas, Adrian Muniz has been around the globe. Now he wants to immerse himself in those nations and cultures again, but this time as an international businessman.
The first-year business administration student competed with Team VeloSport for three years, consistently claiming top-10 rankings against competitors worldwide. But Muniz “aged out” of the league when he turned 18 earlier this year, so he began pursuing a new dream: becoming the first in his family to attend a university.
Muniz had originally planned to major in engineering, like many of his friends, but he switched to business after realizing it could incorporate his cosmopolitan interests.
“Traveling the globe with my team, I noticed that all countries, even if they seem similar on the surface, have vastly different economies influenced by their distinct cultures and consumer behavior,” he says. “Mexico, France, America – the way they do business varies so much, and I came to UCI because I wanted to learn more about how these global economies interact.”
Muniz credits his family for nurturing his curiosity and aspirations. His grandmother and mother emigrated from Guadalajara, Mexico, and his father is from Mexico City. Munoz grew up in Baldwin Park hearing constantly that “education is vital in getting you where you want to go.”
As a UCI student, he hopes to study abroad in Thailand or Japan and plans to continue recreational cycling. Now, he says, “biking is a side thing, as UCI becomes my No. 1 priority.”
Six years ago, Marco Antonio Ortiz Sanchez went on a middle school trip to UCI. He remembers watching people studying in Aldrich Park, huddled under trees as it began to drizzle. When his class headed back to the bus, Sanchez recalls, he glanced back at the students and told his friend, “That’s going to be me one day.”
However, college was far from a sure thing for Sanchez, who is living in the country without legal permission. In fact, he spent most of his life believing it was an impossibility. Sanchez came to the U.S. from Mexico with his mother when he was just 6 months old and spent several years sleeping on the floor of a cramped apartment.
He’d been working alongside his stepfather in San Diego County since he was 8, doing landscaping and construction in the summers and after school. Translating for him taught Sanchez to communicate with project managers and businesspeople, and these early interactions made him curious about business administration.
But Sanchez was resigned to continuing in construction after high school, since his undocumented status meant he couldn’t receive enough financial aid to attend a university. Former President Barack Obama’s 2012 announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program changed Sanchez’s future.
“My parents were practically jumping up and down, and my mom told me, ‘Get ready; you’re going to college,’” he recalls. “DACA opened opportunities for me that I wouldn’t have had, and it gave me hope.”
Sanchez was accepted by nearly all the University of California and California State University schools he applied to, but UCI had been his goal since that middle school visit.
“Walking around campus today, I still pass by some of the places I saw for the first time all those years ago, when I first imagined I would be here,” he says. “Actually being at UCI, sitting in Aldrich Park and knowing that I accomplished what I said I would, is an indescribable feeling.”
A first-year business administration major, Sanchez is already president of the Mesa Court Council, designing events to make residents of the housing community feel welcome. Over the next four years, he hopes to join a business fraternity, meet people through clubs and activities, and – although being undocumented could make it complicated – study abroad.
“If my journey getting to UCI has taught me anything,” Sanchez says, “it’s that nobody can stand in the way of my dreams.”
Most teenagers are content with a summer job scooping ice cream or bagging groceries. Not Ramiro Quezada Jr.
He worked four jobs throughout high school, including officiating soccer games and running his own cellphone repair business. Quezada eventually saved enough money to go in with his parents on a house, a fixer-upper in his hometown, Riverside. He decided to refurbish and resell it, putting him on track to start his own property renovation company – at 17.
Blue Ribbon Real Estate, which specializes in flipping houses in Southern California, received approval as an S-class corporation in June. Quezada manages it with his parents: His mother serves as financial director, and his father helps with renovations. Since January, Quezada has flipped five properties.
“People told me that I was too young to run successful businesses, but there’s never a time when ‘real life’ begins – it’s all real life,” he says. “When it comes to starting your career, there’s little distinction between being in high school or college or graduated entirely, so I figured that I would start early.”
Now a first-year business administration major at UCI, Quezada credits his parents’ work ethic and sacrifices for his own success. They emigrated from Guadalajara, Mexico, “with almost nothing but a drive to create a life” for Quezada and his brothers, he says, and have always supported his business ventures.
“Above all, as an entrepreneur, you have to have a ‘why’ for your business, and my ‘why’ has always been my family,” he says. “I try not to attribute any of my success to luck, but honestly, my parents make me feel luckier than a billion-dollar lottery ticket.”
Quezada hopes to continue running Blue Ribbon Real Estate while in college by outsourcing some of the larger jobs. At UCI, he’s looking forward to learning more advanced business practices and enhancing his plans to operate his own companies after graduation.
“The best thing about business is getting to do everything the way that you want and not having to change yourself for a career,” Quezada says. “I’m doing what I love, and I’m so grateful to UCI for helping me get better at that.”