Georgia State Latino Alumnus’ Journey Leads to Degree with Honors

The first thing Carlos Tejeda bought when he came to the United States from Mexico was a pair of shoes. Starting out with two dollars in his pocket and no English-speaking skills, the 43-year-old Georgia State University alumnus had grown accustomed to spending nights with rain-soaked feet.

“It’s funny how life works,” says Tejeda, pointing to his black dress shoes under the table during a two-hour conversation at the Majestic, a well-known diner in Atlanta. “As a kid, I would have to walk around in broken shoes. Now I shine my shoes every day.”

Tejeda, a native of Mexico City, is among the thousands of students and alumni who have benefited from Georgia State’s commitment to student advising and attention to student progress to graduation. The university is nationally recognized as a leader in creating innovative approaches that foster the success of students from all academic, socio-economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Tejeda spent his childhood in a neighborhood called Tlatelolco, a housing project known for its diversity and tremendous history. About a million people lived in the neighborhood alone, Tejeda says. “You could write a book about it.”

In 1985, when Tejeda was 15, a massive earthquake rocked Mexico City and altered the direction of his life completely. After finishing school a year later and deciding to leave the city, Tejeda sold sculptures he created in Cancun and then Tijuana.  That wasn’t enough to satisfy him, though, so he set his sights on the United States. Bouncing from job to job in his early days in his new home, in 1992 Tejeda had an epiphany.

“The whole point of life is to overcome and transcend limitations,” Tejeda remembers thinking. “That’s when my story in the United States began.”

Tejeda saved up enough money in Los Angeles to pay for a ride to Las Vegas, where he learned English. He eventually found his way to Conway, S.C., finding work building boats and then as a busboy in a seafood restaurant. He started making a salary and tips and rented a room across the street from his job.

“That’s where I found stability,” Tejeda says. “Knowing what’s going to happen the next day is huge.”

Higher education, though, stayed on Tejeda’s mind. After a brief stop in New York, Tejeda returned to the South to be near his wife’s family. He earned his GED in Atlanta in 1998, excelling in writing and the social sciences.

“I always wanted to go to college,” Tejeda says. “I just never had the stability to do it.”

Tejeda was the first in his family to attend college when he enrolled at Georgia Perimeter College and majored in political science. He did well in class and became a member of the honors society. “I created a solid reputation as a hardcore good student,” he says.

In 2005, Tejeda enrolled in the Honors Program at Georgia State―the school, he says, that had the most impact on his life. By making student success the university’s highest priority, Georgia State changes lives and contributes to the economic, social and cultural vitality of the state, nation and world.

“In Georgia State, I found an institution that was sincerely dedicated to elevating the masses like me,” Tejeda says.

Tejeda continued to work full time to cover his expenses while he was at Georgia State. In 2007, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in philosophy. He also gained an appreciation of Atlanta while at Georgia State.

“The greatest thing about Atlanta is the people,” he says. “They are cool, and it’s easy to make a life. You meet open-minded people who come from different places and have different visions for the world.”

Tejeda returned home to Mexico after graduation, and this time around, he says, finding work was easy.

“When you finish a college degree, it changes the way you think,” he says. “You become a problem-solving machine.”

Since 2011, Tejeda has been working for N3, a global sales execution and digital marketing firm based in the Atlanta area. He says his political science background can be applied directly to the business world, and he says he has become a leader in the company.

“It’s part of who I am.” he says. “My stock is flying really high right now. I can create tangible capital at my company.”

Tejeda’s work in the United States and Latin America involves designing and implementing programs to lower attrition rates within the company. He says he has drawn important lessons from his public policy design and organizational theory courses at Georgia State, where he has learned to use a multidisciplinary approach to solve practical problems in the business world.

Tejeda lights up when the topic of politics is broached, calling it his “biggest passion in life.” One of his goals is to help Latino people by developing a new platform for minority business-owners.

“I will never be able to explain what an impact Georgia State has had on my life,” Tejeda says. “It’s so structured. College takes you from where you are and places you right in the middle of the economic landscape. I’m a different person because of Georgia State.”

By: Jason Langbehn (M.P.A. ’12)