Q & A with Adolfo Mercado with Neelam Savla interviewing on behalf of WACAC

Over the next few months, we hope you have the opportunity to meet the dedicated professionals who make up WACAC through out WACAC Member Spotlight Series. This week we’d like to introduce you to Adolfo Mercado, Director of Breakthrough Sacramento.

WACAC: How long have you been working in the education field? How has your career path led you to your current work as Director of Breakthrough Sacramento?

Adolfo Mercado (AM): While in high school, I I tutored students in Spanish at the local community college. Then in college I was hired through federal work study to work for the Early Academic Outreach Program at UCSC. Specifically, I supported students at Salinas HS.  I then taught for some time to return to college access and helped start the Upward Bound Program at Yuba College. After a brief hiatus working in youth ministry for the Roman Catholic Bishop of Sacramento, I returned to college access in 2005 at Breakthrough Sacramento and have not looked back! In total, I am coming up on 30 years in educational equity, having started in the language laboratory at Cosumnes River College as a high school frosh.  

WACAC: Tell us more about Breakthrough Sacramento. What does your day-to-day entail?

AM: Breakthrough Sacramento has a dual mission of preparing middle and high school students for success at selective colleges while training older students to become teachers. I really like how the Breakthrough vision statement begins, “Breakthrough believes in the radical power of education to transform lives…” Students apply to join our learning community in 6th grade, and if admitted we work with them for 6 years. Teaching Fellows work with us on a term by term basis, with the summer program for middle schoolers being the hallmark of our programming. Given that Breakthrough is sponsored and housed on the Sacramento Country Day School campus, as the Director of Breakthrough, I also serve on the school leadership team. My job is an exciting blend of administrative responsibilities, program/school leadership, fundraising, and direct service to program participants (e.g. college counseling for high schoolers and career counseling for college students). 

WACAC: What is the value of WACAC in your career and all aspects of your life?

AM: I first joined WACAC in 2000 while working at Yuba College Upward Bound. WACAC offered me a network of colleagues to learn from back then. Whether it was simply serving as a thought partner or sharing promising practices from their experience, I found WACAC to be highly valuable in helping me best perform my job and serve my students. In other words, WACAC offered me amazing professional development! When I felt ready to take on more leadership with WACAC, I asked to be considered to chair the Government Relations Affairs Committee for WACAC and truly enjoyed this service to the colleagues who have shared so much with me. Through this volunteerism I made new friends through WACAC. WACAC has influenced all aspects of my life and continues to do so. Because of the folks I’ve met through WACAC and the professional development it has offered me, I am am a much better counselor and colleague. 

WACAC: How did you begin your involvement with the Government Relations Advocacy Committee (GRAC)?

AM: At a WACAC conference at USF I connected with different committee leaders and I liked what the GRAC was focused on and doing, so I signed up to join the committee. This was under Jeff Morrow’s leadership of the GRAC. The legislative updates were exciting and the Legislative Conference in Sacramento was amazing! When Stephen Mercer chaired the committee I then stepped up my volunteerism and was asked to chair the GRAC. It was an awesome experience to welcome colleagues to Sacramento and see them advocate for our profession at the State Capitol.  

WACAC: What advice would you give to others who are just starting out in the education field?

AM: The first two things that come to mind are 1- retain that inquisitive nature of a student and ask questions to continually develop our skills as professionals through networking and professional development and 2- freely share your passion because that energy is contagious and will strengthen our overall professional brand. Some folks have had great college counseling and respect our work, but many others had none and need to see the benefits of our service to learning communities in particular and larger society in general. Our work directly affects our future and we are truly building our communities for decades after us. A sense of service is central, I think, to our work. 

WACAC: Who has impacted you most in your professional career and how?

AM: The biggest impact in my work is staying grounded in my Chicano/Latino community. Whether it is professionals lamenting the lack of diversity in their professional networks; abuel@s sharing their vision and what fueled them to tirelessly work for decades; or younger students passionate about their future and needing to define the steps to realize their dreams — it is our community that impacts me most. There are many mentors who have helped me along the way and students I’ve worked with who are now thriving and relishing life keep me fueled to continue to serve.   

WACAC: What are you looking forward to the most for 2016?

AM: In my 11 years at Sacramento Country Day School, I’ve had the privilege of working with one headmaster who is retiring in June. I am excited to work with his successor: get to know him and continue to improve the Breakthrough program.