David Cueva Cortez
Can you introduce yourself and your role in the Allen School?
Hello, my name is David and I am a fifth year senior majoring in computer science with a minor in dance. I am currently the vice chair of GEN1.
What made you want to study Computer Science at the Allen School?
I am interested in computer science because of the tools it provides you for problem solving and creating new things. Growing up I helped my dad with a lot of projects around our home; building a shed, installing an irrigation system for the flowers, and creating a cement driveway to name a few. I often draw parallels to those times where you are given all these tools to create something that is going to impact someone. In my case, though, I was really drawn to computers — seeing how code could create all these marvelous things made me more inclined to try it and eventually it just stuck with me.
How did being a first-gen student affect your journey during undergrad?
Being first gen I knew that I couldn’t do all of what I do now alone. Because of that, I was more inclined to get involved with different orgs on campus in an attempt to find my community and other peers who shared similar experiences as me and had goals that aligned. When I began undergrad I was already part of two first-gen programs offered at UW. The first was the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), an outreach and support program for students from seasonal and migrant farm working families looking to maximize and enhance their opportunities in higher education. This first year cohort program helped keep me grounded and surrounded me with other peers who had experienced the same hardships that come with migrant farm working and having immigrant Latino parents that know little to no English who are just trying to make it by in the US. Seeing as how many in our shoes don’t even make it to college, it was good to see that I was not only one trying to escape that vicious cycle and become role models for our community. We all had that common goal of graduating and that helped me find one community in UW. The other program I was part of was the Washington State Academic Redshirt (STARS) program. STARS is a highly competitive engineering enrichment program for Washington state students from undeserving high schools. STARS utilizes a holistic model to build a strong foundation in math and science course to ensure success in engineering. Since my high school did not offer any AP or IB classes and I had not done running start, I knew I would have been at a major disadvantage when I took my STEM classes since they would be leagues beyond anything I did in high school. STARS helped alleviate some of that with the cohort of students and all the classes and workshops they had us do. Albeit it felt like an academic boot camp at times, it was the necessary wakeup call that allowed me to develop good study techniques in college and nothing brings people together quite like overcoming tough times together. Holistically, these two orgs helped remind me of where I came from while at the same time helping me develop skills to better my own future. It was because of these programs that I was more inclined to put myself out there and help others who were in my shoes because while I was fortunate enough to know and be part of these programs I know that not everyone else is. Therefore I knew I had to give back and I’ve done this by being involved with GEN1 (for first gen’s in the Allen school) and Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity Inc. (for first gen’s in the small UW Latino community). Both orgs have done lots for the first gen community with the programs and resources they provide to their members to make their time at UW enjoyable and so that they can succeed. Because of what they provide I have taken multiple executive board positions to uphold their mission and help create the next generation of leaders. Overall, I wouldn’t have been involved in any of this if it weren’t for my first gen identity that allowed to shine through all my adversity and help others so that in turn they can pass on that knowledge.
What do you think is not talked about enough in the first gen community?
It is hard to cling to this idea that one is first-gen, especially around peers who do not identify as first-gen and have had all the resources they need to succeed in an academic setting. It is much easier to go out and say that one is first-gen around others who are first-gen as it won’t be seen as a weakness or won’t be looked down on. Because the schools that many of us go to are predominantly white institutions, they are not set up in such a way for everyone to have an even playing field and first-gen students have more of a disadvantage and are more likely to drop out compared to their other peers.
What advice would you give your younger self, the first year you came into the Allen School?
I would tell myself to go out and explore everything UW has to offer. This encompasses all aspects of college life. Explore all the different resources there are available to you as a general UW student, as a Latino student, and as a first-gen low-income student. Explore all the hidden gems around UW that you have access to such as the waterfront activities center, the health sciences building which is a big maze and has some cool sights, and any and all study spaces. Don’t just stick with all the spots people tell you to visit, literally explore every nook and cranny of UW and find your little slices of heaven where you can work and relax on your own terms. By going out to explore you never know what you’ll find and it will allow you to go down a rabbit hole of possibilities.
What was the hardest decision you ever had to make during your time at the Allen School?
Not just the Allen School but UW as a whole it would have to be the act of living in Seattle as a full-time student. I grew up in a relatively small town in the east side of Washington. The environment there was different from the one here at UW. Back home the population was predominantly Mexican and many people either were immigrants or were children of immigrants. Many of whom worked as farmworkers harvesting the fruit in various orchards around the Yakima Valley. In this community there was a saying, “Those that grow up in the valley tend to stay in the valley” and this held true a good majority of the time and as a result created this bubble in the valley. It was common to get a job right out of high school with no college education as many were involved in some kind of trade as that’s the type of work that was available nearby. Because of people’s upbringing and the way things were, it was common for people to stay in the valley but for me however I knew that that wasn’t the life for me. I wanted to do more, but it was hard to do so if I just stayed. However, despite everything, I was comfortable being in the valley; my family was there, there were many people there who looked like me and shared many of the same experiences, and as a small town I got acquainted with lots of people there via the school, sports, church etc. With all this being said I knew the community at UW would be drastically different and I knew that I would have to start anew. However I had that drive in me and I knew I wanted to get out of the valley so that helped my transition to UW easier and looking back at it now I don’t regret a thing. The atmosphere is so much more diverse than at home and I have been exposed to so many more cultures, opportunities, among other things that I wouldn’t have otherwise had I chosen to stay at home. While it did take me a while to adapt to the city life coming from a small rural town, I always had people by my side to help with me with the transition and I couldn’t be any more grateful.
Who would you say is your biggest inspiration for your drive?
I would say that it was my family. Both my parents immigrated to the US with no knowledge of the English language and stayed in the US as undocumented immigrants. With those things in mind, my parents worked in the only job they were able to do with their current qualifications, field working. It was job that did not require any book knowledge, all that you needed was fast and precise hands and endurance to do the same type of work day in and day out. Unlike other jobs, this was not hourly pay but rather piece pay. One would get paid on the basis of how many buckets, boxes, or bins of fruit one has completed, so in reality each person was responsible for the amount they made each day. This system incentivized going fast and going as long as you could. As was the case, you’d start working as soon as the sun came up (however some people would start earlier and use headlamps to help them see in the dark) and you’d end when it got too hot or too late to work. It was really all dependent on the individual or when the boss was ready to head home. So long as you made more than minimum wage hourly, you were fine. With all this being said, field work does a number on the body given that it’s an extremely physical job. Some of the tasks we had to were as follow; carry and climb up 12 foot ladders to reach fruit way high up in the trees, carrying around buckets full of fruit that were strapped on your back, and carrying bins around to put them in optimal locations to pour the fruits in. Doing these things young may be easier, but once you’ve started doing this for many years and as the body ages it becomes harder to continue these tasks. Despite all that, people always find a way to endure as for many it’s the only way they have to provide for their family. Another notable thing about this was that in essence field working was a part time job every time. On average one spend about a week working an orchard with about 50 – 100 other people until all the fruit was harvested. From there it was up to each individual to go out and seek another place to work to replace the previous spot. All orchards are owned by different individuals or businesses and all have fruit that is ready to harvest at different times. So for my parents it was crucial for them to get the phone numbers of all the bosses they had worked with so that they could come back again and work the following year. With all that being said, my parents would always work seven days a week for months and months at a time, with the only the rest they got was when an orchard’s fruit picking ended early. They gave up everything in Mexico to provide our family with a better life in the states and did so by working in the fields and enduring everything that came with it. Not only them, but I was also expected to help out with the fruit picking as well so I experienced firsthand just how brutal these conditions were. I knew I could not work in that field for the rest of my life so used that and family’s support as motivation to get where I am today. I hope that one day I can get my parents out of the fields so that they won’t have to continue in arduous back-breaking labor for the rest of their days.
What's your favorite song?
All-time favorite song: Skywalker by Miguel
Current favorite song: Luv(sic.) pt3 by Nujabes