My family moved to West Liberty, Iowa, a predominantly Latino community, when I was a young girl. My parents have a seventh and eighth grade education and their goal for me and my siblings was to finish high school and find a good job.
The first time I had ever heard about a university experience was through an eighth grade TRIO Upward Bound presentation. At the time, I had not thought beyond my parents’ goal for me. The presentation sold me and I was determined to make college my next step.
Even with my experience in Upward Bound, college still felt like something I could not do. As an average high school student, I didn’t think I had what it took to go on to college. I would talk to my family about attending a university, but they often talked down the idea saying it was too expensive. Despite applying to and being accepted at the University of Iowa, I still had many insecurities and limiting beliefs from myself and my parents that continued to hinder my commitment to Iowa through my senior year of high school.
Luckily, the TRIO Upward Bound Summer Bridge program, an on-campus experience between high school and college, helped ease my fears and made campus feel welcoming. The program was by far the most helpful in easing my transition because I was able to experience living on campus while taking an actual summer course.
As a Bridge student I was able to start making connections on campus starting with the staff in the Center for Diversity and Enrichment (CDE). Staff there helped me make more connections and start building relationships. I also participated in the Iowa Edge Program and, the next thing I knew, I was a first-year student with a great community already established. I got connected with TRIO Student Support Services and also found their support key to my success at the university. The CDE space quickly became my second home. The services they offered and the supportive people I was able to talk to were more than I could have asked for. I was soon offered a student worker position, enabling me to assist other students with finding their comfortable and welcoming space away from home.
As is common with first-generation college students, I struggled - a lot. There were so many times I felt like I had failed and wasn’t “good enough” to be here. I suffered from imposter syndrome at its best. The one thing that kept me going was my strong support system in the CDE office. Many of the staff knew about my struggles and their support was real. It was amazing to see how much they went out of their way to answer questions for me.
I graduated in May 2015 with a degree in Applied Human Services-Corrections Services; an achievement that was a long time coming for a first-generation college student. I was so happy to have finished, but I knew this degree was not going to get me to my dream job. After my undergraduate studies, my parents kept asking me if the jobs that I was applying for were jobs within my degree. It was hard to explain to them that a social service degree does not automatically get you a job or restrict you to a specific job.
Reflecting on my high school and undergraduate journey it is amazing to see how much influence the Center for Diversity and Enrichment has had along the way. After receiving my degree, Gabriela Rivera recruited me to apply for a position in the CDE working with TRIO Upward Bound and the Iowa Edge Program. After a full year of working in that position, I transitioned to a full-time TRIO Upward Bound employee - back where I started. It is amazing to reflect on my journey and see it go full circle. Now I am giving back to my community and to a program that gave me so many opportunities, connections, growth, and so much more.
So many people have played a key role in my personal and professional life, and a handful of them have been from the Center for Diversity and Enrichment. My desire to be an influence on and make an impact on UI students has been because of my experiences.
I want to let our students know that even when you are not at the top of your class, don’t shine academically, or are an athlete, success is still attainable. The desire to do better, shine through your own strengths, and surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed is so important. The supportive people I surrounded myself with helped me grow into the person I am today. My hope is we all can continue to shine and grow to help those who follow in our footsteps.