Commencement Stories – Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith doesn't allow being a father stop him from going after his dream

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) – He didn’t realize it until later in life, but Patrick Smith’s personal journey to higher education wasn’t as smooth as others. He will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in June, an accomplishment he never thought feasible just a few years ago. A father of two, Patrick said now more than ever he knows he has to succeed. Here’s how he reached that conclusion.

“I don’t remember anything about him. He died in a horrible car crash when I was 2,” said Patrick Smith, playing with the wedding ring on his finger as he explained the death of his father.

Patrick may not remember his dad, but he has a clear memory of growing up with a single mom, who had a hard time accepting that the love of her life was gone.  “She still has a hard time, even though she’s remarried. Every year around his birthday, we get text messages about how it’s ‘that time of year.’”

His father died when he was two, “It makes me want to be the best father I can be. I know what type of dad I want and need to be for my boys,” Patrick said.

His father died when he was two, “It makes me want to be the best father I can be. I know what type of dad I want and need to be for my boys,” Patrick said.

But, growing up, Patrick didn’t realize how much he had missed out on not having a dad around. Now, a father of two young children himself — Curtis, 6, and Carter, 2 — he sees what it was he didn’t have. “It makes me want to be the best father I can be. I know what type of dad I want and need to be for my boys,” Patrick said.

His journey to graduation day followed a long, twisted road. After graduating from high school, he decided getting practical experience in the real world was more valuable than an education.  His mother tried pushing him toward college, but it wasn’t what Patrick wanted to do at the time. For the next three years he worked as a pool cleaner, a job his stepfather helped him secure.

“I didn’t value higher education at the time. I didn’t see its benefits,” Patrick explained.

But while cleaning pools day in and day out, Patrick started to realize what a degree could do for him, and decided it was time for a change. He was passionate about cooking, and his first inclination was that culinary school would not only be the perfect fit, but the perfect mix of education and hands-on training.

“It’s still a hobby now, but I soon realized becoming a chef wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted either.” Patrick said the outlook didn’t look very promising. He would have to fight for a minimum-wage job, and he wanted to be able to provide more stability for his family. So, after six months of culinary school, Patrick decided to go to college.

He spent three years at Riverside Community College. While there he started contemplating what to choose as a major. “At first I thought chemistry was cool, then I started questioning if I should do physics instead, and finally, thanks to my grandfather, I ended up choosing electrical engineering.”

Growing up in the Riverside area, Patrick said UCR was his university of choice.

Growing up in the Riverside area, Patrick said UCR was his university of choice.

Born and raised in Moreno Valley, Patrick always viewed UC Riverside as part of the community, so he knew this would be the right university for him. He enrolled in 2012, and it wasn’t easy. “It’s not like I get to go home, and just concentrate on homework, projects, study for my finals – I have two kids to take care of.”

Patrick is a full-time student, and has two campus jobs as well. He is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) peer mentor, and works with students at nearby community colleges, sharing his experience, and encouraging them to consider attending UC Riverside.  He also works as a research assistant with Wei Ren, professor of computer and electrical engineering, whom Patrick is assisting with the development of an algorithm.

As a father, he feels it’s important to have an income on top of going to school. As difficult as that has proven to be, the experience also has given him perspective.

“I can’t fail. I have to do well, I have to try my hardest, I can’t let my kids down.” Patrick is fortunate to receive help from his mother and mother-in-law. The two watch Patrick’s children while he is at school, but when he gets home, he tries to balance parenthood with his responsibilities as a student.

With his time at UCR coming to an end, he said he’s feeling a mix of emotions. “It’s sad to think about not coming back to this campus, but I’m happy and excited for the future.” He hopes his story will prove to others that it is possible to juggle many things, and that being a parent doesn’t mean you can’t go back to school, and get a degree.

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