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Man in Motion

A student’s real-life superhero journey

by Jonathan Riggs

photography by Stephanie Yantz | design by Erik Baxter

Kerin Alfaro ME ’20 doesn’t sleep in.

How could he? He’s a first-generation college student at USC Rossier in the Learning Design and Technology (LDT) program, as well as the founding president of its student government organization, the Lambda Delta Tau Society. He works full time at USC Dornsife in biomedical and basic science research administration. He is a devoted son, brother and uncle who helps support his family. Oh, and he also swims 2 miles, bikes 40 miles and runs 10 miles a week on USC’s triathlon team.

“I have to manage my time wisely,” he laughs. “A strong work ethic has always been ingrained in me thanks to my parents.”

The son of a photographer and a seamstress, Alfaro grew up in south Los Angeles, the youngest of six in a Salvadoran/Palestinian family, who couldn’t have been more supportive.

He never had to come out, but wanted to tell his mother.

“At a car wash, I said, in Spanish, ‘I’m gay,’” he remembers. “She just smiled at me, held my hand and said, ‘But are you going to get the deluxe wash?’ She loved me no matter what.”

That support helped him dream big.

“I wanted to be more than just another statistic,” he says. “I knew that education would serve as my ticket to success and a way to care for my parents the way they’d cared for me.”

He started college at UC Santa Barbara but returned home after his father developed a severe health issue. Alfaro ended up working at a dental office to help support his family and put himself through undergrad, earning his Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration at CSU Dominguez Hills.

A windfall arrived when Alfaro—to impress his then-4- and 6-year-old nephews—went on their favorite game show, Wipeout, in 2009. Although he bounced off the obstacle course’s famous big red balls—“The water was frigid!” he laughs—he ultimately won that episode and $50,000.

“When I told my mother, I just fell on my knees in front of her, crying,” he recalls. “I said, ‘Mom, our lives are going to change.’”

He found his professional direction when he got a job at Los Angeles Biomedical Institute at Harbor–UCLA and decided he wanted to help facilitate scientific research as an administrator in grants and contracts. He moved into a role in this rapidly growing field at USC, winning a Dornsife Spot Award and eyeing grad schools. USC Rossier’s LDT program seemed a perfect fit, but his plans to apply to the program were put on hold when his father died.

“It was devastating. He meant the world to me. But after a year, I knew I had to do this in his honor, for myself and for my family,” he says. “There’s a saying in Spanish my father always shared with me, ‘Pa’lante, hijo’: Always think forward and pay it forward, my son.”

As a USC Rossier LDT student, Alfaro has embraced that motto, building a community of like-minded friends whose real-life camaraderie imbues their virtual classroom. They study together, constantly call and text one another, and collaborate on projects, bound by the shared vision of connecting people around the country.

“I would love for this to be our shared legacy: to make educational resources and connections immediate and accessible to people of all intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, sexuality and geographical locations,” Alfaro says. “Education means opportunity. It gives us the power to make impactful change. Nothing was handed to me on a silver platter, so I want to make the journey easier for others who find themselves in the same shoes I walked in growing up.”

After graduation, his goal is to become an executive director in research administration; he also has his eye on an EdD from USC Rossier.

Then, maybe he’ll sleep in?

“No way.” He smiles. “There’s still so much more to do.”