February 24, 2016

Meet Edgar Perez: An unexpected champion

If you give a rose bush just basic soil, sun and water, it will grow. But if you put that same bush in potting soil, give it extra nutrients and prune it here and there, it will produce brilliant colorful flowers that will amaze and astonish. Tiger Woods Learning Center graduate Edgar Perez is like that rose bush.

Through his time in elementary school, Perez was exposed to the basic curriculum, and while he did well, Perez was never excited about school.

But then, in the seventh grade, a representative from the learning center was a guest speaker in Perez’s class. A few weeks later, Perez walked through the doors of the Tiger Woods Learning Center. Looking back, Perez describes that first visit as an empowering experience. It was also the first step in helping Perez bloom into the person he is today.

He was quickly exposed to resources that he now wanted to use and take advantage of. He signed up for an engineering class, and it opened the door, not just to new experiences, but new possibilities as well.

“I was not intrinsically motivated until I got to the learning center,” Perez said. “At the TWLC, I was learning things I wanted to be learning about. That started changing my mentality about what it is to go to school and to learn and get new skills and how to apply those skills in different aspects of life.”

Perez is a junior at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where he is an honors student majoring in physics. While the academic rigors caused by his desire to excel are immense, Perez has been more than up to the challenge.

“College life is hard, but I absolutely love it,” Perez said. “I try to study about 10 hours a day, some days it’s more, some a little less, but 10 is my target.

“The learning center helped me overcome a lot of academic challenges associated with my transition to college. My time there taught me how to ask for help. I know what resources work for me and how to use them best. The individual attention I got from my teachers, tutors and mentors made so much of an impact on preparing me for this challenge.”

Perez’s story is like so many of the students who have passed through the learning center’s doors over the past 10 years.

Asked to describe himself when he initially got to the TWLC, Perez, who attended Savanna High School in Anaheim, California, uses words like frail, apathetic and socially awkward.

Mehrab Sarwar, program coordinator at the TWLC, was a senior at Savanna working in the Academic Support Center when Perez first showed up to the learning center.

“The things that struck me the most about Edgar was just how engaging and colorful he was with his peers and our staff,” Sarwar said. “I was always impressed with his poise and charisma, but I really grew to admire how he was just so comfortable being himself. 

“Edgar and I were only four years apart and our relationship grew where he could feel comfortable and relaxed around me, but he maintained that demeanor with the rest of our staff as well. He wasn’t afraid to tell us jokes, stories or his opinions and didn’t develop additional personas based on whom he was around. He was always himself, and everyone around Edgar loved him for it.”

While Perez said it’s impossible to gauge how different he would be if he had not ever stepped into the learning center, he said it’s easy to identify one of the biggest impacts being there had on him.

“The learning center rewarded intellectual curiosity,” Perez said. “One of its main focuses is that your curiosity brings you to the learning center and the experience keeps you there.

“It’s very fruitful for a student. For those that like asking questions, the learning center helps you go deeper. It lets you get your hands in the dirt. For me, that’s what it did. That’s how it changed me — by rewarding my intellectual curiosity. From there, it trickled down into different aspects of my character.”

Ian Esmilla was Perez’s teacher at the initial engineering class he enrolled in at the learning center. Esmilla said Perez was very humble and was always willing to help out other people no matter what the situation.

“Over the course of his time at the learning center, I noticed that Edgar became very confident in himself to lead others in a positive direction,” Esmilla said. “He made everybody feel good around him. His charisma is contagious.”

When Tiger and his late father Earl developed the idea of opening a learning center, their main emphasis from the start was giving kids like Perez educational opportunities they would have never had otherwise.

While Perez was aware of who Tiger was when he first went to the TWLC, he had no idea about his achievements as a golfer and to this day still doesn’t.

“I think it’s one of the best things about the learning center is it is not about golf,” Perez said. “Still to this day, I can’t tell you what Tiger’s best record is. That’s telling of how non Tiger-focused the learning center is and how student-focused it is.”

As a senior, Perez took part in a foundation program designed to help students with the college application process. Perez said he would not be at Reed College today if it were not for the help he got through this program at the TWLC. Perez then became an Earl Woods Scholar, which he said was a true game changer in his life.

“The more time I spend in it, the more I see what a game changer it is,” Perez said. “My mentor, Kevin Meredith, is such a positive influence on me. I learn so much, not just what kinds of decisions to make but how to be a better person.”

Edgar Perez
An unexpected champion