A Shining Example of a Dedicated STEM Student: Paul Calvo

Story By: Kris Hall, Online Editor

Paul Calvo is a father of three, owns a tattoo parlor, arms neck and face are tatted, an experienced welder, and currently on parole. Calvo is making the most out of his second attempt at college and he’s chosen the most challenging academic path, STEM, and thriving in it.
Calvo was featured on the panel at the Student Success Team event hosted at Fresno City College as a STEM student success story to encourage more students who may be trailblazing different walks of life to converge their path in STEM.
He is a father of three and a humble student, crediting the grace and nourished relationships with his teachers for his success.
Calvo is passionate about the road he is on, but it hasn’t always been this way. He says it started one day after a job fell through and his family kept pestering him; it just clicked.
“When I know I’m where I’m supposed to be at and this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said, “then it’s just pumping throttle.”
This is Calvo’s second attempt at college. His first attempt ended when, at 19, he decided he hated school. “I bombed my first semester,” he said. “F’s, withdrawals, I figured school’s not for me. I’ll just get to work and make money.”
After dropping out of FCC he worked at a tattoo parlor. “It was fun. It was definitely a different scene.”
Then, after two years as a tattoo artist working with his buddy, Calvo went to a federal prison.
He picked up welding his last couple months before he was released on parole in Texas where he stayed with family.
Calvo was born in Tucson, Arizona, grew up in Fresno, and returned to the Central Valley in 2016 after meeting his wife in Texas.
At this point in his life Calvo worked long hours to support his growing family, welding for 10 hours everyday starting at 5 a.m., and then tattooing again usually until 10:30 p.m..
That is, until October 2016, when he opened up his own tattoo parlor — True Anchor Tattooing. Even after opening his own tattoo parlor, Calvo still wouldn’t let go of welding.
“I enjoy welding; it’s copacetic; it calms me down,” Calvo said. He wanted something lucrative during some seasons, while he focused on True Anchor Tattooing in the off season.
Welding eventually did let him go. A contact filing mishap that led to Calvo, who at this time was an experienced welder, getting .
For Calvo, this tragedy, along with constant prodding and encouragement from his wife, sisters and other family members to go back to school, led to his second solid attempt at college.
As a religious man, he felt that God had pushed him to this direction. “When I know I’m where I’m supposed to be and this is what I’m supposed to be doing, then it’s just pumping throttle,” he says, confident and comfortable with his chosen path.
In August 2017, Calvo returned to FCC as an engineering student in STEM.
Calvo threw himself into STEM head first. He was always talking to his teachers and his embedded tutor. Calvo went to every single session.
He did really well that semester. So well, in fact, that his professor encouraged him to apply to become a tutor. The way Calvo puts it, the pieces just fell into place neatly.
There were days when Calvo would have two hours between classes, which was not enough time to go to the tattoo shop for studying and then come back. So he decided it would actually benefit him to use that time to be a tutor.
In Spring 2018, Calvo started tutoring and has been one ever since. He encourages every student to become a tutor, “it really helped solidify all the math I was learning.”
Calvo still has mouths to feed, so he tutors in the morning during the week, and his evenings and weekends are scheduled for tattooing so he can provide for his family.
That same spring, Calvo found the science and engineering club. As the semester started to wrap up in May, Calvo was named the vice president of the club. He was vice president of the club for fall 2018 and spring 2019. He still remains involved although he is no longer the vice president of the club,
As vice president of the science and engineering club, Calvo’s relationship with his teachers was strengthened through networking. Even after his stint as vice president, he relied on those relationships as he entered upper division STEM classes.
There were few if any tutors as he entered the higher level STEM classes; this meant that if there was anyone he had to rely on, it was his instructors. The way Calvo describes it, there was no option for him to attend college without seeking help from faculty.
He says that at one point, he was discouraged from pursuing STEM as he started to focus more and more on his appearance. “I was wondering if I could ever get a job as an engineer because of my tattoos,” he says.
Those teachers ended up being more important to him than he could have expected. The tattoos Calvo has cover his arms, neck and face.
His teachers, with whom he was now well acquainted, told him ‘who cares? Excel and do well in your classes. If a company doesn’t want to hire you because you have some tattoos then you don’t want to work for them anyway.’
One of his teachers linked him with an engineering company for an internship. They really wanted Calvo to intern with them, but ultimately Calvo decided his education was more important. So he has people knocking on his door already, but he’s not ready to open the door until after he has finished his education.
Calvo has other plans after college besides internships. He’s also planning on opening a tutorial center where he lives, by the fairgrounds.
“I want to open up a location where [students] can just show up. Whatever they need help with — chemistry, physics, math, anything STEM related, any little projects they want to work on, they can work on them there,” Calvo said.
He says he wants to do this because there are no such centers where he lives. Calvo said the thought came to him while he was taking a class at Clovis Community College.
“On the way there, I noticed tutorial centers and little STEM centers that you could let your kids get into to teach them programming and robotics. So I looked it up and it was like $300 for a month, not including the money for the materials. Then I looked up to see if there were any by the fairgrounds, and there wasn’t.”
To clarify, in that area of town there are a couple tutorial centers that offer assistance in education such as Reading and Beyond, a k-12 tutorial center focused on family success and rising up out of poverty through education.
What Calvo is talking about is a STEM center, a place for hands on learning for students to get experience applying their class coursework to real projects that a student can follow like rocket science.
At first Calvo asked himself why there are none in his part of town, that is East Fresno, by the fairgrounds. “But then I realized quickly afterward: Money is an issue. There’s not a lot of families in that area that can just shell out $500 a month to have their kids do some program. Why are the kids out in Clovis getting a better education than the ones on the West Side?”
Though he might seem unapproachable, he wants to help. “Whatever field I do get into, I want to be able to build something, to create,” he said. “I enjoy helping others solve problems.” That’s what STEM is all about.