August 8, 2017
Student success is a focus of every institution of higher education. But at University of the Pacific, it means more than just earning a degree. By the time Pacific sends its students out into the world, they are prepared for a lifetime of achievement and leadership in their careers and in their communities.
Meet Aaron Brieno '14, a Pacific graduate poised to make a lasting and meaningful difference in all aspects of his life.
The values of hard work and education have guided Aaron Brieno '14 through completing his law degree at the McGeorge School of Law to becoming a fellow in the prestigious Capitol Senate Fellowship program. He completed his fellowship and was hired in Senator Ben Hueso's office as a legislative aide in 2016.
And through the examples of his family, Brieno has been moved to find ways to serve his community, especially through politics. Growing up in the small Central Valley farming town of Hanford, Brieno found inspiration in his grandparents, who were migrant farm workers, and in particular his grandmother, who enrolled in adult school at the age of 40. He started a community-based organization supporting students with college prep in his hometown of Hanford called "Inspire California" in 2017.
When Brieno was a young adult, his father served on the city council and as interim mayor in their hometown, showing Brieno how public service could help those, like his grandparents, who were disenfranchised.
"I saw the opportunities for social change that the American political system provided," Brieno said.
He learned even more about the political process when he served as his father's campaign manager in his bid for the Kings County Board of Supervisors. Seeing firsthand the problems of working families in his region made Brieno want to speak up for them.
"I quickly realized, though, that to help people effectively, I needed to refine my advocacy, writing and speaking skills," Brieno said.
Law school seemed the obvious path to get these skills, and Brieno said he was particularly drawn to the Capitol Certificate program the McGeorge School of Law was developing as well as the school's close proximity to the Capitol. At McGeorge, Brieno found classes that helped develop his ability to communicate on behalf of disenfranchised groups, notably the Global Lawyering Skills class that taught him practical research, writing and speaking skills. And he took advantage of being near the Capitol by landing a summer internship with Assemblyman Henry T. Perea.
He also found mentors such as Adjunct Professor Rex Frasier, '00, himself a McGeorge graduate, to guide him toward success. Frazier started McGeorge's Legislative and Public Policy Clinic, and Brieno was part of the first class.
"This was truly a unique opportunity," said Brieno. "Students got to work on ideas for bills and then learn how to present the ideas to lawmakers. Many students found lawmakers who were willing to author their bills, and some were even signed into law."
Then Frazier recommended Brieno apply for the California Senate Fellows program — an extremely competitive program that received some 500 applicants for its most recent class of 18 fellows. Considered one of the most distinguished service-learning programs in the country, it is jointly sponsored by the California State Senate and the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento.
While he's been firing up his career at the California Senate, Brieno has continued serving his community. Reading an article in Forbes that listed Kings County among the 10 least-educated regions in the country led Brieno to research how to improve the educational prospects of young people in the region.
"I created a nonprofit community-based organization that will provide college, career and life counseling to low-income high school students in the Central Valley," said Brieno.
He found several graduates of his former high school who have gone on to career success and have been willing to come back and mentor area youth. Joseph I. Castro, President of California State University, Fresno met with the "Inspire California" student during the program.
"Inspire California is an important new initiative because it will help prepare talented youth to be future leaders in Hanford and beyond," Castro said in a Hanford Sentinal article previewing the program. "As a Hanford native and the first Fresno State president born in the Valley, I (will) encourage the students to dream big, be bold and develop strong relationships with their family and friends."
Brieno created "Inspire California," a community based organization designed to provide Central Valley students with comprehensive college prep counseling, opportunities to participate in professional development workshops and mentoring from young college educated professionals. He held the organization's first week-long summer college preparation program in July 2017 in his hometown of Hanford. The Hanford Sentinel ran a story with details about the program and photos (read).
"My journey began in a small Central Valley town, and I'd like to continue helping families with difficulties," he said.
(Story was originally posted on Oct. 22, 2016 and updated Aug. 3, 2017).
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