For Aaron Lucero, life is like a long-distance phone call. He speaks clearly and coherently, but his comprehension is delayed. The way he processes information is visible. At each moment of understanding, his head jerks straight up. As he replies, his body gradually relaxes until another stimulus is thrown at him. Despite what one might imagine as a frustrating and tiring disability, there is a kindness that never leaves his voice and he is eager to share his story.
“My disability is just a little bit of delayed speech processing,” he said. “The challenge that I’ve had because of it includes my reading and comprehension remain below the college level and I always process information slowly. And I always continue to work hard.”
Lucero’s hard work is one of the reasons he was chosen for the Disability Resource Center (DRC) Student of the Year Award, DRC Assistant Director Steven Krane said.
“He’s probably one of the bravest, hardest working students I’ve ever seen in my 10 years here. He was kind of a unanimous decision,” Krane said.
The DRC Student, Faculty and Administration of the Year Awards have no direct benefits, but they serve to recognize exceptional members of the Cal Poly and DRC community.
“Its purpose is to honor students who are really that outstanding, and in Aaron’s case, being from an underrepresented background and a poor family,” Krane said. Lucero is a first generation student from a working-class family.
Krane has also been Lucero’s adviser for the past three years. Lucero remembered one of his first meetings with Krane.
“My adviser told me that he was a little worried that I may not be able to handle the quarter system and upper division classes. But after a couple quarters, I think I have proven that I can succeed,” Lucero said.
Lucero strives for a 2.0 to 2.5 GPA each quarter and since enrolling as a DRC student, he has only missed the mark once. Now, after four years at Cal Poly, he’ll be graduating in June with an economics degree and a concentration in marketing. He already has three associates of arts degrees from Allan Hancock College.
After graduation, Lucero said he wants to find his first full-time job in retail, marketing research or advertising so he can move out of his parents’ house in Arroyo Grande. Eventually he wants to live in either Northern or Southern California, but will stay in the area for the time being.
“The disability does not hamper his intelligence. He really has incredible ability and comprehension,” marketing professor Jeffrey Danes said.
Another of Lucero’s marketing professors, Brian Tietje, described him as enthusiastic, conscientious and fun.
“He works extremely hard. He has an extremely positive attitude and he’s tireless,” Tietje said. “He’s had to interact in a team environment with students of different abilities and backgrounds. He’s worked with projects that are extremely challenging and require a lot of time and effort. He’s had to adapt his pace of learning with my pace of instructing and they don’t always match.”
For his senior project last fall, Lucero and six other students worked with Honda North America and EdVenture Partners on a research program competition. His team tied with San Diego State University for first place, winning the Orfalea College of Business a $1,000 prize.
“While I’ve been a DRC student for the past three and a half years, it has helped me be a better student in my classes,” Lucero said noting that the center allows him to take more time on tests. “I know that if it didn’t exist I probably would have already been kicked out of Cal Poly.”
Not only did the center help Tietje understand and appreciate Lucero’s background, it provided him with ideas for accommodating Lucero’s needs in the classroom.
“They provide support to help me work with various special circumstances,” Tietje said.
Students enrolled at the center, like Lucero, have the opportunity to take advantage of several services. These include academic advising, temporary medical parking, on-campus transportation, sign language interpreters, writing skills assistance and note-taking.
“I think it’s fulfilling to help someone else in my class out,” said Amy Kilpatrick, a kinesiology freshman. “I decided to become a note-taker because no one had decided to do it yet and I wanted to help people do well in the class because I didn’t want them to not get the notes they need.”
Kilpatrick described the center as a “friendly place to be.” The building is clean and bright with cheerful receptionists. On the walls hang framed chalk drawings of great people like Franklin D. Roosevelt who had polio and Albert Einstein who had dyslexia.
Privacy is an important issue at the DRC. Being enrolled will not show up on students’ transcripts.
“We protect students’ privacy because it’s the right thing to do,” Krane said, but also noted the legality of the issue according to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. “The whole privacy structure, it’s designed so students do seek help, not to scare them away.”
The center has helped Danes become more aware of the specialized needs of students by stressing that no one is the same.
“I tend to see students more as individuals. It reminds me that students are unique and there’s no one correct model student,” Danes said.
Cal Poly is comprised of individuals like Lucero, who rides his bicycle to campus from the outskirts of Avila, collects cans, plastic and glass for recycling and has the astounding ability to remember almost anyone’s birthday.
“The opportunity to know Aaron as a student has been a tremendous pleasure and it’s affected me beyond my role as a professor. It’s affected me as a person,” Danes said.