(TNS) — SEASIDE, Calif. — Three years ago, nobody was brash enough to tell Monterey philanthropist Andy Matsui that he was asking for a miracle. After all, he had given millions in college scholarship money to low-income farm boys and girls in Steinbeck Country, and nobody wanted to say no to the kindly man with the fat checkbook.
"I had my own doubts," said Sathya Narayanan, a computer science professor at Cal State Monterey Bay. "But it turned out it was not the complete pipe dream as some people said."
What Matsui, an orchid grower who founded a nursery chain bearing his name, believed in has come true. In late May, 22 students from farmworker and working-class families in and around rural Salinas will receive diplomas in computer science from Cal State Monterey Bay, which they earned in only three grueling years.
Maritza Abzun, a 20-year-old senior, is heading to Chicago this summer for a computing job with JP Morgan Chase. Daniel Diaz, 21, will start a computing job with Uber in San Francisco after graduation, not far from where Maria Rivera, 21, will be working for Salesforce.com. Alonzo Mendoza, 22, plans to stay in Salinas, where he grew up in a farmworker family. He has landed a computing job in data visualization with Driscoll's, a large strawberry and berry grower in nearby Watsonville.
They were among the first students in "CSin3," shorthand for the computer science in three years program that emerged from Matsui's remarkable challenge. Twenty-two of them, or 69 percent, will graduate on time. Five more are on track to graduate in 2017, which would raise the overall graduation rate to 84 percent. Only four have dropped out.
"That's impressive," said David Lopez, director of the Center for Latino Education and Innovation in San Jose and a former Fresno State professor of education. "This program clearly shows that we can work together and break through the usual systemic and institutional challenges in support of student success."
Less than 20 percent of freshmen graduate in four years in the California State University system, and only about 28 percent of community college transfers finish on time. CSin3's graduation rate even tops the University of California schools, where 62 percent earn diplomas in four years.
The lack of diversity in Silicon Valley technology companies has been a running issue for years, with very little headway in adding more Latinos, blacks and women to an industry dominated by white and Asian men. CSin3 suggests an even deeper diversity is possible: adding minorities from rural and working-class backgrounds.
"Diverse entrepreneurs come up with solutions to real problems from their lived experiences," said Freada Kapor Klein, a partner at Kapor Capital in Oakland. "Unless we have entrepreneurs from all backgrounds, we won't have tech solutions that work for everyone."
©2016 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.