Breaking barriers: Sac State alumnus navigates through higher education

Noel Mora a first-generation graduate


Alexis Pedroza

Community Partnership Coordinator Noel Mora in front of the Sac State library on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022. Mora works in The Community Engagement Center located on the fourth floor.

Alexis Pedroza

Community leader and Sacramento State alumnus Noel Mora is a leading example of perseverance for first-generation college students. Sac State has played a part in Mora’s development as a leader in the Sacramento community. 

He serves as the community partnership coordinator in the Community Engagement Center on campus and helps create positive connections with local organizations.

Born in San Francisco, Mora said he moved to Sacramento at the age of 5 and considers it his home.

Mora said he identifies with being LatinX, Chicanx and Hispanic, which helps him form connections with students and his community.

Both of Mora’s parents are originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, and immigrated to the U.S where they started their family.

According to Mora, there weren’t many transitional kindergarten opportunities when he started school, so growing up in a non-English-speaking household had its challenges.

“We were definitely trying to get up to speed with everyone who came from a primarily English-speaking home,” Mora said. “That still happens here [in the Hispanic community].”

Mora said having English as a second language plays an important factor in literacy and how it affected his proficiency as a child.

“One story my mom used to tell me was how I struggled with the word ‘alligator’. I thought it was something related to my sister because her name is Alison, ” Mora said. “And we called her ‘Ali’, I couldn’t piece [the difference] together for the longest time.”

Despite the language barriers, Mora said he continued his education and managed to earn both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Sac State. 

He described college as one of the hardest things he’s ever accomplished because one must learn self-discipline and stay focused on the outcome of their education to succeed.

Mora started working in the same industry as his parents, being a banquet server at a local hotel in Sacramento and said he considered not pursuing a college education. 

“It was my parents who reminded me that [banquet serving] would take its toll,” Mora said. “My parents wanted something different for me than what they had.”

Mora credits this encouragement from his parents as what motivated him to earn his bachelor’s.

The possibility of expanding his work opportunities intrigued him, and it was satisfying to earn his master’s degree, Mora said.

“My degrees are not in education,” Mora said, “But I work in education because to me it’s fulfilling.”

Mora said his first professional job was in youth development because of his interests in community leadership and mentorship roles. He was also a part of the student government at Sac State, holding leadership positions, such as president. 

“I remember being at an event where one of the students told me that I needed to let people know about my position [as president],” Mora said. “That way people know they can come to me as a helpful resource.”

He described how important that moment was to him when he realized he could lead others by example through his previous positions.

“The number one thing I think about now is who can I bring with me to be next [to replace his position]?” Mora said, noting he had no interest in a lengthy leadership position. “Leadership means transitions, we learn and then go on to provide other types of service.”

Mora has also worked at The Serna Center on campus where he was able to relate and offer advice to those around him. According to Mora, centers like these offer more tailored guidance to students because of the relatability and deep connection to each other’s identities. 

“The first time one of the students in our centers told me I was their mentor I had to fight off the tears,” Mora said. “I just wasn’t expecting it, and I don’t think anyone ever does.”

Students have also attested to his record. Alexandra Estrella, vice president of university affairs for Associated Students Inc. at Sacramento State, who met Mora through the Dreamer Resource Center while she was a Dream Leader, talked about his encouragement. 

“He helped me get involved with ASI through committees, little did I know he’d become my mentor,” Estrella said. “[He] always reminds me to let people know my ASI role and he’s definitely creating changes within our Hornet community and Sacramento.”

Jenavi De Anda, a psychology major at Sac State, said Mora always presents himself as someone approachable and polite. 

“He’s hardworking and so involved at Sac State.” De Anda said, adding how Mora being an alumnus helps students connect with the advice he often gives.

Jessica Gutierrez, a graduate student assistant at The Serna Center, shared some memorable experiences with Mora despite her brief interactions with him. 

Gutierrez just started working at the center and is still getting the feel of her first non-sales associate job. Gutierrez met Mora during her training, where he showed her around the center.

“Noel was incredibly helpful,” Gutierrez said. “He really made me feel prepared to work at the center before he left.”

Mora said he has appreciated all the kind words from people, and he’ll continue to serve his community by encouraging Sac students to pursue their goals and reach out to leaders for help.