Pájaro Valley Scholars


The Pájaro Valley, nestled in the central coast of California among rich farmlands, hosts a lush wetland environment fed by the aquifers of the surrounding hills.

The town of Watsonville, which grew adjacent to the Pájaro River, became a major agricultural center thanks to the labor of generations of immigrants from countries near and far.

As far back as the 1970s the Pájaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) has historically made a special effort to support high-achieving students aspiring to attend competitive colleges and universities. Beginning in the 1970s a Watsonville High School counselor Michael Sullivan made a lifelong commitment to the students of the Valley where he mentored hundreds over the years, many of whom became the first in their families to attend college. Mike elevated the hopes, goals and ambitions of these First Generation students with his support, encouragement and wisdom. His lofty academic expectations inspired many of them to pursue professions they might otherwise never have thought of.

Today the Watsonville Ivy League Project (WILP) continues to work with underrepresented students on pathways to higher education from Pájaro Valley high schools. In collaboration with the non-profit organization, Migration and Adaptation in the Americas (MAIA) the Pájaro Valley Union School District administrators, counselors and teachers continue to encourage and support outstanding college-bound scholars from Pájaro Valley high schools.

Here are some of their stories in their own words.

Cesar Garcia Lopez

Cesar is shown here at Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History where he collaborated on research in vertebrate zoology. His interests in ecology began with research done in Panama as part of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's WATCH Program. He graduated from Yale with a degree in Environmental Sciences and intends to study city planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Ester Bentley

Ester is a graduate of MIT with a B.S. degree in Materials Science and Engineering, and is now a doctoral candidate in the Computer Science and Engineering Department at the University of Michigan. She was recently awarded a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.

Julia Romo

A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in the History of Science and Technology, Julia works at the W. Haywood Burns Institute which is dedicated to dismantling structural racism and building community-centered structural well-being.

Marcos Arguello-Gonzalez

Marcos is a Gates Millennium Scholar who graduated from Watsonville High School and attended UC Davis. His Gates Award also supports his graduate studies at Masters degree level.

Miguel Garcia

Miguel is studyiing mechanical engineering and robotics at Oregon State University. He has always had interests in creating new things. One of the latest things he has built is a functional robotic arm.

Ana Ventura Phares

Ana has led a distinguished career as an attorney in the Pájaro Valley. She has served as Mayor of Watsonville, and has an extensive record of public service in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

Ricardo Romero M.D.

Ricardo was encouraged to go East by his Watsonville High School counselor Mike Sullivan who recognized him as "Harvard material." After his graduation Ricardo went on to Stanford's School of Medicine where he specialized in Family Medicine. Now retired, his new mission is to mentor other "first generation" students interested in becoming physicians.

Alex Rocha

Alex is a student at Yale who wrote this personal essay while studying at home in the Pajaro Valley during the Covid Pandemic. It appeared in Yale's New Journal and is excerpted here.

Abraham Corrales

Abraham graduated from the University of California at Davis with a major in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a minor in Chicano Studies.


Alegra Eroy-Reveles Ph.D.

Alegra joined the faculty of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UC Santa Cruz where she also earned her Ph.D. degree with a specialty in synthetic chemisty. Besides teaching and research, Alegra has published extensively in her chemistry specialty and on the interface between chemistry and society. She is also a strong advocate for advancing effective education and the success of the next generation of students. The monarch butterfly seen here on her laptop as she sits in front of her college class is a symbol for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students which means "no borders".

Edgar Garcia Lopez

Edgar is a Gates Millennium Scholar who attended Brown University as an undergraduate and is there now in medical school. He credits his parents for encouraging him and his brother Cesar for urging them along the path to higher education.

Camilla Marquez M.D.

Camilla was encouraged by Mike Sullivan to leave her hometown and attend Smith College in Northampton, MA. After graduation she returned to California where she received her medical degree at UC Davis and completed her OB/GYN residency.

Mariana Rocha

Mariana graduated from Yale, and is now in the Emory University Neuroscience Ph.D. program. Her immigrant and LatinX heritage has influenced her research goals of understanding environmental effects on the health of the brain.