Distinguished Alumni: Rey Saldaña
April 16, 2020
Former Palo Alto College student Rey Saldaña recently took on the role of President and CEO of Communities In Schools (CIS), the nation’s largest nonprofit working with at-risk youth in schools. As he prepared to take on the role, he reflected on the opportunities that enabled him to assume the leadership of a national organization whose mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.
Education has played a central role in Saldaña’s life. His first exposure to a college education was at age 12, when he visited Palo Alto College as part of a Pre-freshman Engineering Program (PREP), which gave him a new perspective on what he could achieve in life.
"I was a seventh-grader stepping… not knowing that college was something I could do,” said Saldaña, who grew up just two blocks away from the campus. “Palo Alto played a role in expanding a horizon that I didn't think was possible for myself."
|Palo Alto played a role in expanding a horizon that I didn't think was possible for myself.|
Over the years, Saldaña took advantage of various opportunities available at the College, often visiting the Ozuna Library for internet and computer access. In high school, he participated in a local chapter of CIS – the same organization which he is now leading – and began taking dual credit courses to challenge himself and accumulate college credit. From using community resources to experiencing a college atmosphere, Saldaña’s confidence was boosted through exposure to a college atmosphere.
“Because I was in that [dual credit] program, I was taking college classes and getting a sense that I could handle a college course,” said Saldaña. “Even though my first paper came back bloodied red with bad grammar and run-on sentences, it was good for a professor to tell me that this was not the way to write.”
After graduating from high school, Saldaña moved to California to attend Stanford University. He then returned home to San Antonio, where he was elected as District 4 city councilman at the age of 24, becoming the youngest councilperson in the city’s history. Serving the very community that raised him – and the same district in which Palo Alto College resides – Saldaña took a proactive role in advocating for education in the district.
|Throughout his four terms in office, Saldaña partnered with Palo Alto College to provide access to education and resources to the community, from launching a Learn to Swim program and supporting a new dental hygiene program tentatively launching in 2021. For his commitment to education and the south San Antonio community, Palo Alto College recognized Saldaña as an Outstanding Former Student in 2016 and inducted him into a Distinguished Alumni group, comprised of former students who exemplify the mission of Palo Alto College.|
Growing up in the South Side, Saldaña experienced first-hand the disparity in access to services, so he made it his mission to transform underserved communities into empowered communities.
“I remember growing up and feeling so ashamed of things that I shouldn’t have felt ashamed of, but now give me great pride,” said Saldaña. “I’m from the South Side of San Antonio. Not a lot of people bet on young people from the South Side of San Antonio. I’m first-generation [college student]. My father was undocumented. So, if there are young people out there who are just feeling like the world is betting against them, know, those will be the ingredients that are going to make you a stronger person.”
|So, if there are young people out there who are just feeling like the world is betting against them, know, those will be the ingredients that are going to make you a stronger person.|
In 2017, Communities In Schools invited Saldaña to serve on the CIS National Board of Directors. Excited about his new venture as President and CEO, Saldaña looks forward to empowering at-risk youth to stay in school and pursue a path toward a brighter future – much like his own story.