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The Mireles triplets
The Mireles sisters (from left) Erica, Monica and Sonia. (Photo by Brandy Ramos Nikaido/UCOP)

Three of a kind in the freshman class: triplets enter UC Berkeley

– In today's economy, it's a struggle for almost any family to send a child to college. But Abel and Emma Mireles of Sanger, Calif., didn't hesitate a moment when their triplets, Erica, Monica, and Sonia, set their sights on what the family considered "the crown jewel of the University of California system."

"Once the girls saw UC Berkeley," said their father, who visited several schools with them, "it became their first choice."

This past spring all three students learned they'd been accepted. They could barely contain their excitement and breathed a collective sigh of relief. The 18-year-olds give much credit to their family for getting them ready for college.

"Everyone knows college is expensive," said Erica Mireles. "But my mom and dad said, 'Somehow, we'll find a way.'"

Monica added, "Dad always said, you can't put a price on education."

Abel and Emma Mireles started exposing their daughters to college life when the girls were still small. "We didn't go to college, so we stressed to them that they could do better," said Abel Mireles, a manager at a car dealership. "We'd take them to sports events at Fresno State so they could envision that they could do that-they could be college students."

The sisters prepared for a rigorous academic career for years by attending special summer enrichment programs and taking advanced placement classes in high school. They all graduated from Sanger High School with better than 4.0 grade point averages.

But during the past year, their hard work was not limited to academic studies. With the one used computer they had at home, the triplets took turns poring over Internet sites looking for scholarship possibilities, and they diligently worked with their high school counselors to find financial aid.

They weren't haphazard in their quest for funds. A calendar was marked with due dates for applications, and they kept a checklist so they wouldn't forget deadlines. While being in a threesome can have drawbacks, in this case the triplets relied on each other and shared resources.

"Erica is really organized," said Monica of her sister. "She kept the calendar up to date and made sure everything went out on time." Monica and Sonia said they consider Erica the threesome's "mother hen."

The triplets' steadfast commitment paid off. They received state scholarships as well as private scholarships, and next year they will work part-time through UC Berkeley's Work-Study Program. They won't hold part-time jobs their freshman year; they and their parents agreed they should focus exclusively on their studies.

Financially, the family is making sacrifices so the triplets can attend UC Berkeley.

"In addition to their scholarships, we've taken out loans, the maximum amount we could, and we're looking into refinancing the house," said Abel Mireles. "It does affect our lives, but we know in the long run it's worth it."

He credits the girls for understanding the family's tight finances. "They don't have to have the latest fashion," he said. "They've always worked with us."

The triplets, who all plan to major in science, also credit their participation in the Mathematics, Engineering & Science Achievement Program, or MESA, for helping them get accepted at a top university. MESA has programs at universities, colleges and community colleges throughout California, and the Mireles triplets attended at Fresno State University. This program assists students at middle and senior high schools, and even at some elementary schools, so they can excel in math and science and become competitively eligible for the most prestigious colleges and universities. It works in partnership with teachers, administrators, school district officials and industry representatives to provide this academic enrichment model.

"MESA really exposed us to the UC system," said Sonia. The program, along with academic workshops and study skills training, included career and college exploration, with guest speakers and field trips to show students different opportunities.

As they prepared to enter UC Berkeley, the Mireles triplets received incredible support from not just their parents, but from many relatives in the Central Valley. On the campus's Move-in Weekend, grandparents, cousins and aunts left Sanger at 5:30 a.m. and drove with the family to Berkeley to help haul boxes up to the triple room the girls are sharing in a residence hall.

The girls considered living in separate rooms so they would meet more people, but they ultimately decided that, at least for their first year, they would stick together. Because they are so family-oriented, they thought this might keep them from getting too homesick.

The evening of their first day of class, they phoned home, their voices full of excitement. "They loved it," said Abel Mireles. "They were already working on their first reports."

For now, the sisters have to share a laptop do to homework, but as soon as the family can afford it, they'll each get their own.

While the Mireles family realizes its situation is unique-they have the first set of triplets admitted to UC Berkeley - they feel that other families can benefit from their experience.

"From the day they were born, we made our children our priority," said the girls' father. "We never missed a back-to-school night, a parent conference."

"Even though I work crazy hours," said Mireles, whose wife is a teacher's aide, "I told my co-workers that my family would come first. I coached the girls' softball and basketball teams."

"Parents just have to be really involved," he continued. "You have to make sacrifices for them - not just for 18 years, but for the rest of their lives. We set the groundwork. We helped them open the door, but they had to go through it."