Armando Pulido ’15 and I have kept in touch across the country since he graduated from Brentwood. He was recently chosen as one of nine Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows (MMUF) at Dartmouth College. According to their website, “MMUF addresses under-representation in college and university faculties by supporting the pursuit of PhDs by underrepresented minorities and those who have otherwise demonstrated alignment with the MMUF goals.” When I learned of this prestigious honor, I wanted to hear more from Armando about the program, his plans, and how his Brentwood experience prepared him for this opportunity. We chatted in August right before he left to begin his junior year.
Sarah Bishop: To begin, congratulations on being named one of the nine recipients of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program at Dartmouth College.
Armando Pulido: Thank you!
SB: I first met you in my yoga class and then again as my senior advisee. At Brentwood, you excelled academically, you were a peer leader, active in LSA, Co-Class President your senior year, and you ran on the cross-country team. You formed strong bonds with your classmates and faculty and then, in 2015, you graduated from Brentwood School and went from Los Angeles to Hanover, New Hampshire. Why did you choose Dartmouth?
AP: Ah…the infamous question. On paper it always seemed like a good school to me when I was applying, and I thought of the teachers who went there from Brentwood. I had Dr. (Cat) Zusky, Ms. (Cristina) Macaraeg, and Mr. (Eric) Hogenson, and I thought, they’re all great people, so it should be a really great school! After I was admitted in March, I flew to New Hampshire and stayed with Liam Stevens ’14. I immediately just felt at home. After that visit, I committed to Dartmouth and knew it would be a good place for me to learn and grow and be far away from the busyness of the city. But I think the path that I’ve had since then was a lot bumpier and different than I thought it would be. The first year was rough.
SB: How was it different from what you had experienced at Brentwood?
AP: I always knew that Brentwood was the place for me. Even though I was a minority, low income student, and Latino, I never really felt like I was out of place, even though I should have been. I felt like I had a home group of friends that I could always seek out to talk about cultural offenses or differences in wealth and other issues that arose. They just got what I was going through. Our differences brought us together. But at Dartmouth that first year, I felt like I was only seeing the differences. I wasn’t seeing anything that was bringing me together with anyone else. Being away from the city, which seemed like a perk before, was just isolating. It was such a big adjustment to move from Los Angeles to Hanover, it was just a lot to handle at first.
I considered leaving Dartmouth, but towards the end of my first year, I became part of a group called The Coalition for Immigration Reform, Equality, and DREAMers (CoFIRED, for short), and I found friends to connect with and talk to about all of the things I had been experiencing in my first year. To see juniors and seniors in this group thriving despite also feeling the isolation that I had felt was really awesome. Ending that first year on such an affirming note, after that rough first winter, was a reminder as to why I was there and what I am supposed to be doing in college—helping others.
SB: That was really a turning point for you. Talk about your chosen area of study; it seems you’ve really found your footing.
AP: I’m planning on double majoring in art history and geography. Freshman year, I took a course on Mexican contemporary art from the 1700s until now. My professor, Mary Coffey, is an expert in Mexican art and muralism, and I remember the first day I walked into her class. She is tall and white with reddish brown hair and big glasses, and I was like, “What is that woman going to know about Mexican art?” By the second week, I literally couldn’t wait to go to that class and do the readings. I could not believe I was just learning all of this information about my culture and art and history that I had never been taught. Geography came in with my involvement with the immigration reform group. Also, at the same time I was taking the Mexican art course, I was taking a course on immigration, race, and ethnicity. I saw so many intersections between art history and the cultures of Mexico and America, with the changing policy of the U.S. and how those two societies interacted and informed one another. In my head it makes a lot of sense to pair these two subjects together (laughs).
SB: Tell me a little about how you found the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship opportunity.
AP: That same professor, Professor Coffey, told our class that we represented the highest number of Latino students she had ever had in that course in all of her tenure as a professor. She told us about a fellowship available for underrepresented students at Dartmouth and said it could be a really good path for me. Professor Coffey kept reminding me about it over the course of the next semester and helped me through the application and interview process. The more I talked to her about it, the more I realized how much I would enjoy spending two years of my time in college studying art history, geography, and Mexican culture. As the process went on, I realized how badly I wanted it. Thankfully it worked out!
SB: Yes! That’s amazing. Has getting the fellowship further informed the direction you want to take in your life, or has it opened up more questions?
AP: I have been looking more into what I might want to do after college, and the fellowship has been giving me the tools to think about a professorship and going into academia. It sounds pretty awesome to me to spend my life doing research and travelling and teaching others. I am not 100% sure that is what I’ll be doing but I am really, really open to it.
SB: That’s okay. You don’t have to know now. I’m curious to know how Brentwood School gave you a foundation for where you are right now.
AP: I always think about this. I really don’t know if I would be in the same place in life if I didn’t have Brentwood. I think it exposed me to so many differences in the world, both good and bad. I didn’t know anything about the “Westside” growing up. I knew Santa Monica and a few things here and there, but I really didn’t know a lot about the city. But I think I really did learn who I was here, and I learned how to stay true to myself academically, socially, and personally. I really wouldn’t be the same person without the people I met at Brentwood.
SB: What was it about Brentwood that helped you to be true to yourself?
AP: I think I was really lucky in that I had a group of people who always encouraged me to do my best and wanted what was best for me. I felt like people were always trying to help each other out. My friends from my class were just some of the most caring people I encountered in those four years. I really can’t describe it or put it into words. I think all of the stress we went through together and all of the good times we had outside of school just kind of…
SB: Bonded you?
AP: Yeah, and made me realize I really could do a lot more than I ever thought I could because I never thought of coming here, and I never thought I’d do well here. But somehow I made it through.
SB: It sounds to me like your friendships really helped you believe the best about yourself. How do you hope to give that same kind of encouragement to others?
AP: I think one of the best ways to give back is to help inform others about what they are in for—high school is hard, college is hard, and the process of getting between the two is harder still. There is a lack of encouragement from communities like the one I came from, and, when I was younger, I never thought I would go to a school out of state. I always thought I would go to a school locally and do well and live my life. The more I meet people in college and the more I step away from Brentwood, the more I realize it isn’t just a select few. It doesn’t have to be a select few students who get the opportunities like I did to come to Brentwood and to go to a four-year college/university. There are so many students with so much potential. I hope I can encourage them to find it.
Armando Pulido is currently a junior at Dartmouth.