Escobedo was in middle school when his family settled in the mostly agricultural town of Atwater, located 8 miles north of Merced up Highway 99, six years ago. His father landed a job that offered better benefits and a better salary, he explains, allowing his mom to remain at home and focus on helping Escobedo and his younger sister with their studies. The effort paid off. When it came time to apply for college, Escobedo received acceptance letters from three UC schools – Davis, Irvine and Merced. He chose the latter, he says, for a variety of reasons, including the school’s smaller size and its proximity to a community he was just then beginning to discover.