A First-Gen Community Mentored Max Prado; Now He Gives Back
By Becky Kramer
Max Prado noticed the young men wearing suits in WSU’s Compton Union Building. He admired their confidence.
“They were young Hispanic guys who looked like me, but they were dressed really nicely. I had never owned a suit, or even worn one,” says Prado (’18 Fin.). “They came up and shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and made an effort to connect with me.”
His freshman encounter with members of Omega Delta Phi, a multicultural service fraternity, had a lasting impact on Prado. By the time he was a sophomore, Prado—a first-generation college student from a family of farmworkers—was wearing his own suit, helping the fraternity recruit new members.
Omega Delta Phi was part of a supportive community for first-gen students that Prado experienced at WSU. Through the fraternity, clubs, and extracurricular activities, he built friendships, took on leadership roles, and aspired to a corporate finance career at Boeing, where he works as a financial planning and investor relations analyst.
“I had mentors at WSU, and I had opportunities to develop leadership skills, something I didn’t experience in high school,” Prado says.
First-gen students “often think all the action at college is in the classroom—earning credits and getting grades,” says Chip Hunter, dean of the Carson College of Business. But the learning that happens outside the classroom is also important, he says. Besides professional skills and confidence, “students are building a network of people who can be resources for them over the course of a lifetime.”
During his four years at WSU, Prado went from being mentored to mentoring other students. He helped start a club for first-gen business majors, and he still shares his story at Carson College events.
“If I can help ease one person’s self-doubt that they belong in college, that’s something I’m passionate about,” he says.
“Are you going to college?”
Prado was born in Mexico and grew up in Othello, in the heart of the Columbia Basin’s irrigated agricultural industry. His mom, a farm laborer, worked long hours to provide for her four children.
“She often left us with a babysitter at 5 in the morning and didn’t get home until 6 p.m.,” Prado said. “I felt my family’s way out of that life—working under the hot sun—was through education.”
In elementary school, teachers spotted Prado’s aptitude for learning and helping others. “They told my mom, ‘You should encourage your son to do well in school and finish his homework, because he’s a great leader in the classroom.’”
But in a family without much formal education, Prado was largely on his own. When he was a senior in high school, being asked, “Are you going to college?” made him uncomfortable.
“I didn’t like thinking about that,” Prado says. “No one in my family had gone to college, so I didn’t know how to answer.”
When a school counselor told him he could apply for financial aid, “I didn’t believe it at first. I thought it was too good to be true,” Prado says.
He applied to WSU because some of his teachers were Cougar alumni. But he was on his own to complete the complex federal forms for financial aid.
“I almost missed the deadline,” he says. “It wasn’t until a few weeks before classes started that my financial aid was approved.”
From mentee to mentor
During his freshman year, Prado credits the College Assistance Migrant Program at WSU for helping him feel at home on the Pullman campus.
“Most of the students in the program were first-gen, Mexican, and immigrants. We really related to each other,” he says. “We had upperclassmen as mentors, and it was empowering to see where they were going with their lives.”
At Omega Delta Phi, Prado transitioned from mentee to mentor. He wore the suit he bought at Men’s Warehouse in Spokane weekly, serving as the fraternity’s treasurer, vice president, and then president. He also served on WSU’s United Greek Council.
Prado’s interest in working for Boeing came from his fraternity connections. “One of my fraternity brothers had accepted a job there. I saw him working hard, and I just really admired the guy,” says Prado, who took part in Boeing’s internship and rotational programs before being hired full-time.
As a junior, Prado and others started a WSU chapter of the Association of Latino Professionals for America. The club focused on the needs of first-gen business majors.
“We wanted to create a safe space to ask questions,” Prado says. “If you’re with peers who have a high level of business acumen, it can be intimidating to ask about the basics of networking or creating a résumé.”
By telling his story, Prado hopes to help other first-gen students feel confident about what they have to offer employers. Early in his career, he strove to be an idealized version of a finance professional.
“I had this picture in my mind of this super professional guy, this perfect person that I was striving to be,” he says. “Eventually, I realized that I’m going to be myself.”
“I may say things a little differently or have different mannerisms or cultural references, but I don’t see that as a weakness anymore,” Prado says. “First-generation graduates have a perspective that’s valuable, and it belongs at the table.”