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Costa Mesa native William Parker strives to give back

William Parker, 20, stands in his former Samueli Academy school's engineering lab.
William Parker, 20, stands in his former Samueli Academy school’s engineering lab. Parker, a junior at UC Berkeley, completed an internship at LPA Design Studios in Irvine, which is the architectural company that created the new buildings and dorms that just opened at Samueli Academy.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

William Parker is a busy 20-year-old.

He’s a junior at UC Berkeley majoring in international politics, though the school has switched to all virtual learning during the coronavirus pandemic. Parker is involved with the Black Recruitment and Retention Center on campus.

The Costa Mesa native has also launched two startup companies recently. Unraveled App, which he founded with Berkeley graduate Madhuri Gujje, deals with relationships and their roles in people’s lives. Wall Street Bites is about instilling financial literacy at a young age.

Things have moved quickly for Parker. It’s been about six years since he was a freshman at Samueli Academy in Santa Ana and he built his own electric bicycle. That spirit of invention and entrepreneurship remains as alive as ever.

For Parker, trial and error was the only way to operate.

“I would always ask the teacher or someone older than me, ‘How did you get to where you are today?’” he said. “There was no common theme of, ‘I did X, Y and Z, and now I’m here.’ When I realized that, I was like, ‘If I try everything I possibly can at a very young age, then I’ll be able to have a better idea of what it is I want to do. I just tried as many things as possible to see where it would lead me. If I fail at this, then that only gives me another lesson to then incorporate into the next thing that I do.

“A lot of it was just going to a teacher, going to Google, going to the library and then constantly incorporating the process. But I think that you’re never bigger than the people that help you along the way. Most of that was just me constantly asking questions.”

Joe and Sonya Lozowski will be recognized at Thursday’s 23rd annual Orangewood Foundation Ambassadors Luncheon, which will be held virtually.

It has already come full circle for Parker, part of Samuel Academy’s second graduating class in 2018. He has completed a pair of internships — one in high school, one in college, with LPA Design Studios in Irvine. LPA was the company that recently completed Samueli’s recent expansion, including an on-campus residence, a student innovation center and a building for seventh and eighth graders.

“He’s a great kid,” LPA Chief Executive Officer Wendy Rogers said. “He definitely has an entrepreneurial spirit, which of course we love at LPA, and he has a lot of tenacity. He was in college and had reached out for an internship. Typically, we like them to get a little more conceptional experience in school before we bring on interns, close to more like their third year. But you know, it was William, and he was super-persistent. It was like, ‘Yeah, of course you’re coming back.’ He will be a force, for sure.”

The Share Our Selves' SOS Health Center at Samueli Academy in Santa Ana officially opened in 2016.
Students hold the ribbon while, from left, Share Our Selves Chief Medical Officer Eric Huang, Samueli Academy Head of School Anthony Saba and Orangewood Foundation Chief Finance Officer John Luker officially open Share Our Selves’ SOS Health Center at Samueli Academy in Santa Ana in 2016.
(Courtesy Share Our Selves)

Parker, who said he grew up in a middle-class background with his parents, William and Porscha, and siblings, Elizabeth, Michael and Matthew, realizes the role money can play. This was especially true during his time at Samueli, a public charter school that teaches foster and community youth.

Wall Street Bites is a play on words for Parker, who likes to cook but also wanted to boil financial literacy down into bite-size portions.

“For a lot of low-income people, it’s not that they don’t have money, it’s that a large part of that money goes straight to surviving,” he said. “When you’re constantly in a state of survival, you rarely have time to worry about, ‘Hey, how can I invest, how can I start planning for my retirement?’”

Parker aims to bring the services his companies will provide to the students at Samueli. He’s often in discussion with Norah Sarsour, the school’s director of alumni success.

“Predominantly, we serve first-generation college students, and he works with a population like that up at Cal,” Sarsour said. “To see him embody that sense of equity in education, and then also coming back down to Santa Ana to meet with me on multiple occasions, he’s connecting his past and where he grew up with his present and what he’s doing now. He’s bringing it back to the community, and that’s sort of his future, I feel like. He hasn’t turned his back.”

Samueli virtual enterprise teacher Gina Gonzalez had Parker in class as a junior and senior.

“I loved having him in my class, because he really, truly enjoyed business,” she said. “I still have not met a kid who was that business savvy and was willing to take the time to learn things on his own, or ask questions when he needed it.”

Parker said he hopes he is an inspiration for other Black youth.

“I think that when I do my outreach work now, other young Black men or students of a minority identifying background see college or any of the things I’ve done as not just possible, but possible at a very early age,” he said. “That puts me one step closer to my goal of increasing the accessibility of education to historically underserved communities, quite similarly to what Samueli Academy did for myself and others.”

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