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Cal Student Rising Above Supports Disabled Mom With Cisco Internship

EAST PALO ALTO (CBS SF) -- Growing up in East Palo Alto, Markel Moore says he's had to work hard for everything -- like becoming the first in his family to go to college and earning the scholarships to pay for it. But now that he's starting his second year at UC Berkeley, his feet are much firmer on the ground.

"I love Cal -- everything from football to academics," he says.

The learning is not just in class. "The people are really great, really diverse," he says. "And that's what I really wanted. I always said I really want to go to college. I want to meet so many new people from all different parts of the world. And that's what I've done."

Markel had another first this year -- a summer internship through Students Rising Above at Cisco, his first foray into the corporate world. It was a perfect match for Markel, who is majoring in business, but it was intimidating at first, he says. "I had just finished my freshman year at college and it's Cisco! And I'm just like, what am I doing here?"

That reaction is just part of the reason the internship program became such an important part of the Students Rising Above (SRA) program.For low-income, first generation kids it is often their first exposure to the professional world and important training for getting and holding a job.

Lauren Brener set up the internship program by knocking on the doors of companies like Cisco and convincing them to hire students rising. "It's next to impossible to land anything when you graduate from college, if you don't have connections and the professional foundation that kids with professional parents get," she explains. SRA has workshops and webinars that teach its students basic skills the students will need. "Everything from what to wear, and appropriate use of email," lists Brener, "how to address people, arriving on time, and going above and beyond your assigned duties."

She has watched first hand the life-changing experiences and skills the students develop during a summer internship. For example at Cisco, part of Markel's internship involved website design. "He loved that and (before) he didn't know about that at all!" says Brener. "That would not have been on his radar, if not for that internship."

When we visited Markel at Cisco, he showed us how he could connect with his boss via tele-presence technology. His supervisor, Nahulan Buell, told us Markel had earned a lot of respect at Cisco and that the work he did on the Web-ex page was fantastic. "It was a great way for me to get introduced to the corporate world," says Markel.

But what made the Cisco internship particularly important to him was earning a salary.

"I can contribute to the family. Like I have a purpose," Markel explained. That purpose is to help his mom, a single mother who was disabled after a devastating car accident when Markel was in 8th grade. There was never much money, but the accident left her unable to work, raising 3 boys. "The accident just made her feel incapable of granting us the life that she wanted us to have and she didn't," Markel says, the sadness showing on his face. "She tells me that she's sorry. She's always apologizing for not being there for me financially. I tell her like, it's okay."

Markel took on big responsibilities with his younger brothers after his mother's accident. "I now have to take on like this fatherly role and kind of replace her for my brothers," he says. "I'm basically trying to link them in the right direction." Setting a good example is a part of that.

Markel hopes college and a professional job will eventually help him support his mother financially. The job at Cisco was a first step. "This internship basically lets my mom know that I'm here for her and I'm working for her and she doesn't have anything to worry about. This is just the beginning."

Markel rose above at school too. Darren Chan was in charge of the dormitory at his high school -- Eastside College Prep, a rigorous boarding school not for wealthy kids but for low-income students in East Palo Alto. "He has a phenomenally big heart," says Chan, who watched him show a gentle kindness with the younger students. "There's something about that ear-to-ear smile."

Darren Chan says Markel stood out academically as well. "He was a perennial dean's list student. He was someone who always chased after excellence and I think what makes Markel stand out is not that distinction itself but the work went along with it."

When Markel's mother, struggling financially, moved to Stockton to save money, Markel stayed in East Palo Alto so he could keep going to Eastside College Prep and eventually moved into the dorm there. The separation was hard but the education he got there got him into UC Berkeley.

For Markel, Cisco and Cal are just the beginning. " I think going to college and going to UC Berkeley just shows you can make it out for East Palo Alto, you can survive," he says. "You don't always have to struggle. It just means the world it lets me know that I can achieve and that there's a better life out there for me."

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