Whenever life gets truly hectic and he's feeling overwhelmed, Jorge Reyes Salinas has two ways to motivate himself to keep going; he calls them Mom and Dad.

"I continue pushing because I know all the sacrifices my parents have made for me," he explains. "My parents have always inspired me to continue and never stop aiming for that degree."

Today, Reyes Salinas, a communication studies graduate student at California State University, Northridge, has seen plenty of benefits to that stamina. The latest is that he now serves on the 25-member CSU Board of Trustees.  

As the voting student trustee — a role he took on in June 2017 after being appointed in 2016 by Governor Jerry Brown — he represents the university's nearly 479,000 students.

Reyes Salinas succeeds Maggie White as the Board's voting student trustee, a one-year position current nonvoting student trustee Emily Hinton will move into in 2018. 

I don't want any student to stop their education for any reason." -- Jorge Reyes Salinas

And although he beams with pride at the chance to make a difference to students across California, it wasn't long ago that Reyes Salinas first set foot on the CSU Northridge campus as an undergraduate journalism student, eager to begin a new chapter of his life but also experiencing bouts of insecurity.

"When I started my classes at CSUN, it was a total culture shock," recalls the Chatsworth, California, native.

Reyes Salinas struggled with being a first-generation student; he and his family immigrated to the U.S. from Peru when he was 10.

"The CSU has allowed me to see firsthand how education gives you a better future," he says. "You are able to make it in the world through education and hard work. When I started getting involved on campus and realized all the changes student government did, it really opened up so many doors for me."  

For other students struggling to overcome self-doubt, Reyes Salinas is clear about what he believes helps most: "Find or build a support system," he stresses. "It can be your friends, family, counseling services — anyone you feel you can talk to freely about what you're going through and the challenges you are facing."

Just as important are self-care and mental health, he adds. "We as students are constantly on the go with classes, work, extracurricular activities, and obligations with family and friends, so we sometimes forget about our own well-being and how important that is.

"Sometimes you need to take a step back and really look at what you've accomplished."

Telling Students' Stories

The 24-year-old credits the CSU's affordability and accessibility with allowing him to accomplish his and his family's dream of higher education.

"College was always something that was mentioned and talked about in my household," Reyes Salinas shares. "I just didn't know how I was going to get there or how I was going to be able to afford it."

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CSU Northridge student Jorge Reyes Salinas serves as the CSU's voting student trustee, while Sonoma State student Emily Hinton serves as the nonvoting student trustee. She will succeed Reyes Salinas in 2018. Photo courtesy of CSSA

The university's faculty, staff, alumni, students and fellow Trustees have inspired him to continue climbing the higher education ladder: ​​"The CSU has completely changed my life. When I first arrived on campus, I had this idea that I would earn my bachelor's degree and join the workforce, that was the plan." 

Graduate work simply wasn't on his radar at the time. "I didn't realize my potential or the importance of a master's degree," he continues. "Being a first-generation student and also an undocumented student, you are always trying to prove something to someone."

Now planning for a doctorate, Reyes Salinas says he'll use his position on the Board of Trustees to advocate for students in the areas of affordability, access, well-being and basic needs.

"I am so honored to speak for and represent the CSU's diverse students," he says. "When I'm sitting in my meetings, I'm thinking about all of those students I've met, their stories and how we can assist them.

"Our students' stories need to be told. We all started at the CSU with the intention of getting to that finish line. I don't want any student to stop their education for any reason."