“Where am I going?”

Wally Lozano asked himself this question quite often while in between stints of an on-and-off tenure with his current community college, SMC. Lozano, 28, has overcome a tough upbringing and bouts of debilitating anxiety and is now on his way to a 4-year university to major in engineering.

A tinkerer since childhood, all Lozano had to do to transcend his humble, Inglewood-raised surroundings was to look inside and have the courage to say he wanted to reassemble himself.

Lozano grew up in a rough neighborhood, gang violence a part of everyday life.

“Many friends of mine never made it past high school,” he said. “I knew I had to go to school to make a better life for myself but without concrete example of someone doing that, it always felt like a far-fetched idea. It was like saying you wanted to go to Mars or something.”

To keep the temptation of street life at bay, Lozano would work with his uncle doing manual labor and installing water softeners throughout Southern California.

The job reinforced a love of tinkering for Lozano, who grew up taking toys apart and putting them together.

This job applied the same mechanics. But what could he do with this career? Though the gig proved lucrative, there was no room for growth.

“It would’ve been an endless cycle of doing the same thing over and over,” Lozano said. It wasn’t for me. It felt like that when I got to SMC, too.”

Lozano enrolled in community college in 2012 and struggled with academics and his own anxiety.

He was in and out of classes, signing up and dropping out due to some difficulties learning and panic attacks. The panic attacks caused by his anxiety made him want to drop out completely.

He was unsure of how to ask for help.

When he was not in school he’d work odd jobs again such as plumbing and construction, jobs that recently at the time but didn’t challenge Lozano.

“Where am I going?”

With friends going to SMC, Lozano took a shot at school again.

A friend turned him on to the school’s Adelante program, a success-oriented program focused on helping Latino students, and Lozano’s educational goals became clearer.

He signed up for the school’s STEM program, which gave him invaluable educational and career opportunities, such as stints at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Undergraduate Scholars (JPLUS) program, NASA’sCommunity College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program and the USC Liquid Propulsion Laboratory at Viterbi School of Engineering.

The program also led him to SMC’s Center for Wellness and Wellbeing.

There he was diagnosed with hypomania, the leading cause of his anxiety and panic attacks that impeded his learning.

To tackle this, Lozano began psychotherapy and taking resilience exercises sponsored by Goruck, an organization that’s provided military special forces training.

One of the exercises Lozano undertook was The 50-mile Star Course, a resilience exercise which required Lozano to carry around a 30 to 40-pound weight in a rucksack for 18 hours total.

The exercise has taken him through all of Los Angeles, seeing people’s lives from other perspectives.

Sometimes he walks from his home of Hawthorne to SMC, the walk giving Lozano time for calm, time for reflection.

Where is he going? Upward and onward to a brighter future.

The process has been a boon for Lozano, who, through the help of the resilience exercises, is now on course to transfer in the fall to a four-year institution.

“Everyone has some sort of baggage,”  Lozano said. “Something we’re carrying around and we walk with it. This is a very physical way to figure out how I’m living with anxiety within my life. We have this heavy weight you’re always carrying around.”

Lozano hopes to help his community, specifically lower income and POC community members, with his impending degree.

He hopes to be an example to his community and help guide others to where they’re supposed to be going.

“Some of us have long and short walks to our destination. The point is that we understand what’s on the other end of that journey.”

Angel@smdp.com

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