I came to Illinois as a transfer student from Parkland College. As a Hispanic female and first-generation college student, the mentoring, advising, and support systems that I have found on both of my college campuses (Parkland and Illinois) have been instrumental in helping me navigate the whole college experience. My parents and family were supportive of my college goals, but they didn’t go to college and didn’t understand the college system. I found that it could be challenging to balance everything, with family roles, academics, and working in student assistant roles. I relied a lot on my mentors and my friends to help me manage the emotions and decisions of this journey. One day it occurred to me that what I was passionate about was helping people through situations like this – I wanted to be that support for others. By the time I transferred to Illinois, I was certain of the career I was passionate about. I pursued a degree in Social Work.

In my community, good experiences are a result of meaningful relationships. In the School of Social Work, I learned so much from professors such as Prof. Valerie Cintron and Prof. Janet Carter-Black. I could see how passionate and dedicated they were about the field. It made me love it more and feel like I was in the right place. School was my safe place when I was going through difficult times. I knew that in the classroom I was learning and engaging with classmates who are dedicated to the work they are doing. I built an enriching community there that means so much to me.

Currently, I am working as a Youth Program Coordinator in Houston, TX as a part of the AmeriCorps VISTA program. I came across the position on the career services website. I recognized that I had held leadership roles doing similar work, so I decided to apply. The work that I’m doing right now has been so rewarding for me personally and professionally. I’ve been working with immigrant and refugee populations, overseeing five after-school programs. I’ve learned so much about program development and management, grant-writing, funding, recruitment of staff and volunteers, workshop facilitation, and retainment. Last fall, I co-led a quality improvement program. My favorite part of my work is knowing the difference we make for the children we serve. I visit the centers and talk with the children and families. I get hugs, and I get to hear all their funny and creative stories that they come up with. This is an experience that I really take to heart because it has shaped me into a better leader.

My AmeriCorps program term ends in May, and I am excited to pursue a Master’s in Social Work in the coming academic year. I will be able to apply what I’ve learned from real-life scenarios in this experience to better understand our texts and theories. The concepts sound simple in books. But, now I have experience to know what it looks like when you have to implement these things in real life with the pressures of managing time, grant writing, and recruiting, while considering office culture, and so on.

I encourage students back at Illinois to get involved and build community both inside and outside of school. That has been a major component to my success in my college experience. I honestly don’t think I would have gotten this far without the support and expertise from my mentors, professors, and friends.