Unlike what many tend to think, football players are not in college just to focus on developing their athletic abilities, and it is not easy for them to play their way through school. Fourth-year Accounting Major, Oscar Aliaga, hopes to, and will, break this stigma placed unfairly on athletes.
At the beginning of his college years, Aliaga admits that he did get sucked into this stigma at first. He was fresh out of high school, having played football throughout those four years as well, and he thought in this way: he was just in college to play football and glide through his classes. However, he met Professor Gold, who instilled in him that football would end someday, and that it was important to take school seriously.
A few of Aliaga’s accomplishments at Whittier College stemmed from his football career. He was captain of the team last year, achieved the title of best athlete according to position in their conference, and has been part of the all-academic team (athletes who hold at least a 3.5 GPA during their season) the whole time he has been at WC.
Aliaga’s other accomplishments at WC were academic-based. He has been on the Dean’s List three times, and was nominated by Professor Gold for both the Intex Internship in China, something Aliaga participated in last year, and the Parks Prize, which is a $1,500 stipend gifted to students to be used for business, or whatever academic or professional involvement the student wishes.
Managing both athletic and academic responsibilities was hard at times, Aliaga admitted. He had an especially hard time at the beginning of his college career, given that he was in that uncertain and difficult transition between high school and college. He had a very quick reality check in his first year at WC: “If I want to succeed, I have to supply myself,” Aliaga realized. In order to manage his commitment to both his academic and athletic responsibilities, Aliaga would take four classes in the Fall Semester, during the football season, and overloaded in the Spring Semester in order to reach the full 16 credits he needed. Sometimes, sleep was a sacrifice — between all the school work, late night practices, weight lifting, and more, Aliaga went, occasionally, without basic self-care routines. Despite the hardships, though, Aliaga insists, “It’s doable. For any athlete that thinks it’s not, it is. It’s doable.”
There is more to Aliaga than academics and athletics, of course. One of Aliaga’s quarantine hobbies has been playing video games — Call of Duty being one of his favorites. This somewhat new habit does not stop Aliaga from getting out, though; his house is right down the street from the Red Rock Mountains in Las Vegas, and he, accompanied by friends, family, or both, goes hiking as often as they feel like to “just enjoy nature and life,” said Aliaga.
Always appreciative of those close to him, Professor Gold is someone Aliaga praises for, having helped him greatly in his development both as a student and a person. Professor Gold was very involved with Aliaga’s academics, and even convinced Aliaga to change his major from finance to accounting so he had a better chance of getting into graduate school. Lecturer in Business Administration Riki Ichiho has also been a huge source of support for Aliaga. Professor Ichiho helped guide Aliaga down the right path for his accounting concentration, helped him understand how important it is to be professional, and how to do things a certain way, in order to get into USC and succeed as an accountant.
Aliaga is really hoping and praying to get into USC. He will likely finish his application by the end of this week, and he will know, most likely in January, whether he has been accepted or not. He plans to get his masters in auditing and data analysis — an additional part of his master’s degree that focuses on working with systems that the big four accounting firms in L.A. use. Aliaga is also hoping and praying to be hired into one of these big four programs. He does not have a preference for which one he gets accepted into; “Whichever one wants me is the one I want,” said Aliaga.
Currently, Aliaga is in a class with Professor Gold about the inequities of the workforce, including Affirmative Action, unemployment rates, and racial discrimination. The two of them are working on a project together this module, which they, unfortunately, have to rush in order to get it done within the seven weeks they are granted for this class. Their research focuses on a comparative analysis of the judicial and legislative systems of the U.S. and France; they are collecting data and information about what these countries are doing to combat racial discrimination, and making note of what is and is not working, and which country is having a better time with it. The U.S. was a fairly obvious choice (we live here, and we know better than anyone the kind of racial discrimination that happens within our “diverse” walls), but Aliaga pointed out that France is just as bad, if not worse, about this discrimination. Because of the current Middle Eastern crisis, the Arab population from Syria, Nigeria, and other countries are migrating to places like France at rapid rates, and they are having a very difficult time being hired at all. On the off chance that they do get jobs, they are often placed in and forced to stay in lower-level positions no matter their qualifications.
Although he does not plan to, Aliaga supposes he could continue this research for his senior project from the angle of a managerial position, by showing ways to make sure diversity is present in his company and what kinds of rules to lay down so that this happens. However, that is a more theoretical approach, and Aliaga plans on focusing more on business than law for his senior project. “[Actually,] I don’t need this project, or the senior sem[inar] project to get into [USC], but if [USC] needs supplemental research, I can [provide these projects],” said Aliaga.
Regarding why Whittier College was the school of choice, Aliaga said, “Honestly, football was my main reason” for taking interest in WC. The coaching staff at the College reached out to him through his high school, but, once he got to WC, and found out about the partnership with USC (which guarantees students from WC who apply for the master’s program at USC an automatic interview), he knew this is where he wanted to be. “Whittier is a great school in terms of what they can provide for my career,” said Aliaga. Through the College, he met Professor Gold, who played a huge role in shaping him as a person and a student. “I can’t say enough about Professor Gold. He genuinely cares about his students; [. . . he will] go the extra mile for them. Every student I’ve talked to about [Professor Gold] only has good things to say about him,” said Aliaga.
Aliaga’s main piece of advice for current and incoming WC students is this; “Do not let your past determine your future.” Aliaga talked about how he came from a broken family, and he did not have as much access to privileged resources as many other students. He is a first-generation college student, as many of his, and our, peers are. He did not go to the best high school, nor was he the best student back then, but he is flourishing now. “Don’t let [the past] deter you from your studies. [Despite my past], I still found a balance, and a way to succeed [at WC] and, hopefully in my professional career. There is a path to success,” Aliaga said. He is currently on his, and, as long as staying on track and finding balance remains a key focus, all Whittier College students are, and will be, on theirs.
Feature image: Courtesy of Oscar Aliaga