Family ties: how an SF State education changed everything for two sisters
Despite a childhood rocked by trauma, Theresa Gamboa (B.A., ’21) and her twin sister Alexandria Singh (B.A., ’22) are facing the future with optimism, determination and forgiveness
When she was 15 years old, Theresa Gamboa made a phone call that changed her life. It was a change for the better ... eventually. But it also led to consequences and chaos she had to deal with for years.
Gamboa’s call was to the police. She was reporting her father — a meth addict and gang member — for abuse.
Gamboa ended up in the foster care system. Her father ended up in prison.
It’s a story most people might be anxious to put behind them. But Gamboa — who graduated from SF State in 2021 with a degree in Business Administration — isn’t most people. She’s committed to telling her story again and again, even hiring a speech coach to help her develop it into a TEDx talk.
“I’m not going to let any of my pain go to waste,” she says. “I’m going to use my business skills and what I’ve been through to make an impact. That’s my calling now.”
That doesn’t mean telling her story is easy. Recalling the details can be difficult.
“It goes blank due to all the trauma,” she says.
But she does remember the optimism she felt walking onto the campus of San Jose City College at the age of 16. Despite the disarray of her life — bouncing from one foster home to another after turning in her father — she’d managed to graduate early from high school. She recalls thinking of education as her “golden ticket out,” and she was anxious to use it.
“There were so many issues in high school. I just wanted to be somewhere where people were there because they wanted to be, not because they were forced to with a chip on their shoulder, ready to fight,” she says. “I didn’t want any of that. I was already experiencing that at home.”
SF State and Some Pivotal Help
Unfortunately, though the desire to get an education was there, the skills weren’t. Neither was the support she needed.
“There was nothing good going for me,” she says. “I just had negative news after negative news — moving from foster home to foster home, and I couldn’t see my parents legally.”
Things turned around for Gamboa when she began getting academic and life skills support from Pivotal, a San Jose-based nonprofit that serves youth in the foster care system. Though Gamboa aged out of the system at 18, Pivotal continued to provide support — including help applying to SF State when Gamboa realized she wasn’t connecting to the nursing classes she’d been taking at San Jose City College.
“What drew me to San Francisco State was the business program,” says Gamboa, who also received scholarship support from Pivotal for her switch to SF State. “I fell in love with business. It ignited a real passion. … My motivation went from a five to a 10.”
Gamboa particularly responded to the teaching of Smita Trivedi, an associate professor in the Lam Family College of Business whose specialties include sustainable business practices and female entrepreneurs from impoverished backgrounds.
“I’m passionate about helping other people. So it’s really important to me [for business] to make a benefit to me and the person on the other side,” Gamboa says. “She showed me the importance of doing business the right way.”
After graduating, Gamboa landed a job as a marketing coordinator at Afero, a Silicon Valley tech company that develops internet connection software for clients like Home Depot. Gamboa says she loves it.
“I am pumped,” she says. “I literally couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
She shares that happy ending with others through the talks she regularly gives on behalf of Pivotal. Reliving her childhood isn’t exactly fun, but she’s determined to show other foster youth they can change their lives. She can already point to one who followed in her footsteps: her twin sister, Alexandria Singh.
Singh (who got married and took her husband’s last name last year) graduated from SF State with a B.A. in Criminal Justice in December. Singh says she and her sister were inseparable as children.
“We were just double trouble. Always together,” she says.
That changed dramatically when Gamboa called the police on their father. For a time, Singh remained in their parents’ household after Gamboa was removed.
“I was stuck at the house alone with a lot of abuse and neglect,” Singh remembers. “I was like, ‘Hey! Call the cops on me! I don’t want to be here!’ So I eventually made that happen.”
Years later, Singh followed in her sister’s footsteps once again — on the path to SF State. Though Singh finished her degree from Miami, where her doctor husband began his residency last year, she and Gamboa have begun another important journey together — the one to forgiveness. Both sisters have been in contact with their parents and say they bear them no ill will.
“When we tell people our story, people tend to hate our parents,” Singh says. “We don’t want that at all. Me and my sister, we don’t want to harvest bitterness. That’s like a stone that drags you down. We genuinely love our parents, and we forgive them.”