As I became more aware of social inequities, teaching seemed to be the natural choice.”
After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in applied mathematics, Cliff Cheng traveled the world for two years. “I visited places I had only dreamed about seeing; taught poetry, drove a forklift and tutored kids in math and reading.”
Cliff had first come to the US from his native Hong Kong when he was six. Growing up in the working-class neighborhoods of San Lorenzo, Calif., he was never sure of his future. “My parents wanted me to go to college, but it seemed like a pipe dream. In my neighborhood I didn’t hear about high school graduates who went to college.”
Cliff attributes the change in his thinking to his school teachers. After a recruiter from a vocational education program advised him to consider a welding class to gain job experience, his teachers convinced him to focus instead on the most rigorous academic courses that the school had to offer. Cliff took their advice and began thriving in advanced placement (AP) classes, earning acceptance to Berkeley as the first in his family to attend and graduate from college.
After two years of world travel, Cliff enrolled in graduate studies at Stanford University where he earned his master’s degree in education and a teaching credential. “I hope that in some small way I can have an impact on my future students the way my teachers had an impact on me.”