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Renaissance Scholar Shows He’s also a Renaissance Man

Ramiro Montiel

Being a Renaissance Scholar showed me to be benevolent and to care, to help others in need.

Ramiro Montiel keeps trying to make up for lost time.

Three days a week during the fall quarter, the Renaissance Scholar wakes up at 5 a.m. and is out the door an hour later to fight freeway traffic from Chino to Santa Monica. He arrives at the parking lot of Lions Gate Entertainment by 7:45. Montiel then sets the alarm, reclines his car seat and sleeps for an hour before starting his internship at 9.

When 6 p.m. rolls around, he walks down the street to Starbucks, where he’ll study until 9 rather than crawl home in traffic for two hours. When he does get home, it’s more studying until past 1 a.m. before grabbing some rest for a morning class at 10. This fall, Montiel took 16 units.

“I’ve come to realize how much I can do in 24 hours,” Montiel says. “I have no time for complacency.”

Montiel is relishing his life and squeezing all he can into his senior year at Cal Poly Pomona. His introduction to this world is a stark contrast.

“I was left in a stranger’s house as a newborn child,” he says.

At 3 months old, he was placed in foster care after social workers found him and his four older siblings without parental supervision. They were dispersed to foster homes. He says his parents weren’t able to regain custody and died when he was a toddler.

By his own account, he has lived in 24 foster homes throughout Southern California, and attended five elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools.

“There was no consistency in my life. I lived in different houses for few months and then I would move again,” Montiel says. “I would come ‘home’ and find that my luggage was packed. Some of my stuff was packed in trash bags.”

As a teenager, Montiel battled feelings of abandonment. His eldest brother, Enrique, would visit and spend time with him at his foster homes, but it was far from the family dynamic that Montiel yearned for.

“It was a very emotional loss of my own identity,” Montiel recalls. “I would see parents and kids at the park or see family outings where everyone was so happy and wonder, ‘Why did this happen to me? I want to have a family.’ ”

At night, he would look to the stars and recite a childhood rhyme.

“I would pray and I would wish to somehow be normal,” he remembers.

It was not until Montiel was accepted as a Renaissance Scholar at Cal Poly Pomona did he start to find himself. The Renaissance Scholars program was established in 2002 and offers support and guidance to students who emancipate from the foster care system. In addition to academic support, students also receive counseling, peer-to-peer mentor advisement and financial assistance. Montiel arrived on campus in the summer 2011 and took remedial courses in English and math to get him ready for the rigors of college.

“This is where the 360-degree turnaround came in, where my life changed completely into where I am now.”

Montiel says he finished his freshman year with 3.3 grade-point average.

Statistics show that less than 5 percent of foster youth attend college. Of that number, a scant 1 percent will graduate from a four-year university. Montiel is determined to become part of that 1 percent.

“Since my adolescent years, the odds were never in my favor,” he says. “That’s when I realized, if you let your mishaps and tribulations get the best of you, you will fall flat on your face and hit the pavement. You have to pick yourself up and keep moving forward.

“I have learned to make the most out of my past experiences being a foster youth. Those experiences has made me the person I am today.”

He is on track to graduate in June with a bachelor’s degree in marketing with minors in public relations and international business. Montiel is a member of the campus’ American Marketing Association and Public Relations Students Society of America. Away from school, he is involved in foster-care organization agencies such as United Friends of the Children and speaks regularly to children growing up in circumstances similar to his.

Montiel has had internships at Lions Gate, HBO, Fox Broadcasting and Warner Bros., and has his sights set on a career in entertainment marketing.

Sara Gamez, who helps oversee the Renaissance Scholars program and is Montiel’s mentor, marvels at how much he has accomplished.

“When I first met him, you could tell that he was at that cusp of doing something big. He was so focused and determined to be successful. He’s also always wanted to make sure that he made a positive impact in the lives of others while changing his own world,” says Gamez, a 2004 alumna and former Renaissance Scholar herself. “Seeing him now, connected in the right ways has allowed him to really flourish even more and tap into his full potential.”

The Renaissance Scholars program has played a pivotal role in Montiel’s transformation, but the person who has had the most impact on his life has been his eldest brother, Enrique.

Years earlier, Enrique also was a Renaissance Scholar at Cal Poly Pomona. After he graduated in 2006, he became a social worker and received custody of Ramiro and their sister, Magdalena.

When Ramiro was a senior in high school, the brothers got into an argument, which led to a life-changing heart-to-heart talk.

“Enrique told me that I’m not your father. I will never be your father. I’m your brother. I love you and my job is to take care of you, provide a roof over your head, and give you food and clothing. When you graduate high school, I don’t know what you’re going to do, but you have to figure it out,” Montiel recalls. “You’re going to be an adult and I’m not going to hold your hand forever. He said it to me so seriously that I knew he meant it.”

With the point made, Ramiro followed his brother’s path to Cal Poly Pomona. The long hours and hard work are paying off.

“He’s always been a go-getter. He is very ambitious and really wants to demonstrate to the world he’s capable of doing what he wants once he sets his mind to it. You can sense that when you talk to him,” says Enrique, who keeps a watchful eye from a distance. “Determination is one of the things that I tried to instill in him and he really took that to heart. I was very hard on him, tough love if you will, but I had to be that way in order for him not to take life or any opportunity for granted.”

While intestinal fortitude pushed Ramiro to be a dedicated student, outside influences forged his personality.

“When I went into the Renaissance Scholars, I was very selfish. I felt like the world owed me something. When I started having my counseling sessions, a lot of my anger was following me. I started realizing that it’s not only about myself,” Ramiro says. “Being a Renaissance Scholar showed me to be benevolent and to care, to help others in need. Family is a huge thing for me. I see the Renaissance Scholars as my family.”

Thoughts of family don’t stray far from Ramiro. He is close to brother Enrique and has a tattoo of another sibling, Rufino, on his right arm. Rufino is autistic, and the tattoo depicts him looking happily into the sky. Magdalena is studying at Cal State Fullerton while another brother, Javier, graduated from Pasadena City College.

“When I was growing up, I couldn’t control my destiny,” Ramiro says. “Now, I can control whatever I want. I can become whatever I want.”

Published on February 25, 2016

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The Impact Map shows how Cal Poly Pomona alumni are making a difference in Southern California and around the country. Explore the map or share your own impact.

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