Peer to Peer: Career Advice for Aspiring Education Researchers from Pathways to the Education Sciences Alumni

This post was crossposted from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) blog, Inside IES Research

In 2015, IES launched the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program to broaden participation in education research. Pathways grants are awarded to minority serving institutions and their partners to provide up to year-long training fellowships to undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, and masters students. Each Pathways program has a specific education theme such as literacy, equity/social justice in education, student success, and education pipelines. Pathways fellows receive an introduction to scientific research methods and their program’s education theme, as well as meaningful opportunities to participate in education research, professional development, and mentoring. Currently, there are seven funded Pathways programs; IES recently launched the newest program focused on learning analytics and data science to the University of California, Irvine. Over 250 students have participated in Pathways, and many (39 at last count) have already started doctoral programs. In honor of HBCU week (September 7-10), Hispanic-Serving Institutions Week (September 13-19), and Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15- October 15), we reached out to six Pathways alumni who are in graduate school to ask them for advice for other students who wish to pursue graduate study related to education research. Here is what they shared with us.

Comfort Abode

RISE Training ProgramUniversity of Maryland, College Park/Bowie State University (HBCU)

Doctoral Student, Indiana University

My number one piece of advice for students who want to become education researchers would be to keep in mind the purpose of your research. If nobody understands it, it is not helpful. And in order for people to understand it, you yourself need to understand it. You cannot teach what you do not know. Especially considering that the research is in education, the goal should be to educate teachers, students, faculty, or whomever, about what is being studied and (hopefully) steps that can be taken towards improving that area. You have to keep your audience in mind and while it should not be “dumbed down,” you have to make sure that your point is getting across clearly. In order for that to happen, you have to know what you are talking about. Project RISE was especially helpful in the fact that there were a lot of mentors and people willing to help you understand the scope of the research as well as provide comments and feedback on areas to improve upon.

Jeremy Flood

RISE Training ProgramNorth Carolina Central University (HBCU)/University of North Carolina Wilmington/Pennsylvania State University

Doctoral Student, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

My only advice would be to remember the mission of solving challenges in education. Within the body of education research, there are several ways one can accomplish this—whether it is by policy research, grounded theory, ethnography, or experiments, there are quite a diversity of tools available at a researcher’s disposal, so much so that it may seem overwhelming at first.  Do not stress if you find this true; you are not the first or the last to feel overwhelmed! Instead, use this as an opportunity to rededicate yourself to the mission and allow your dedication to choose a research path that is best for you. Whichever one, two, or three (or more) that you choose, make sure that the end goal seeks to improve the practice of education.

Jessala Grijalva

AWARDSS Training Program, University of Arizona/College of Applied Science and Technology at the University of Arizona

Doctoral Student, University of Notre Dame

I advise Pathways fellows to take the time to reflect and internalize the cultural competency components of the program. The Pathways program will not only prepare you with the hard and soft skills that you need to be a successful researcher, but also help you become an all-around culturally competent researcher. Sometimes, we assume that as students of color or students from diverse backgrounds that we are inherently culturally competent; yet, there is so much more to learn and to be aware of. From my experience as a participant in the Pathways program, I’ve learned of ways to extend cultural competency beyond research and into my interactions with other researchers, colleagues, mentors/mentees, and the broader community. To be an effective researcher, it’s not only important to conduct culturally component research, but to also work with people of all walks of life, and to be able to disseminate our research and findings to the public. Training in cultural competency is very rare and very valuable–and something we may not fully appreciate—so take advantage of this opportunity and make cultural competency an important priority in your conduct as a researcher.

Camille Lewis

PURPOSE ProgramFlorida State University/Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (HBCU)

Doctoral Student, Florida State University

There is an African proverb that states: “Knowledge is like a garden. If it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested.” On the quest to become an education researcher, it is easy to get caught up in the hype of being “the expert.”  My #1 piece of advice to anyone who is interested in education research is to remain a student of life. Your journey to becoming an education researcher will be filled with many opportunities to learn, adapt, and understand the process of learning. Embrace these experiences; allow your researcher identity to be shaped and influenced by new discoveries and new interests. Continue to seek new information and allow your knowledge base to be cultivated. My experience as a public-school teacher, PURPOSE fellow, and doctoral student has shown me the importance and necessity of continually seeking advice, experiences, knowledge, and professional development related to learning and education. This pursuit of knowledge has informed and shaped not just my research, but my life outside academia as well. I never allow myself to become a “know it all.” This keeps me humble and allows me to continue to make improvements in every facet of my life.

Christopher Terrazas, MA

Pathways ProgramUniversity of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA; HSI)

Doctoral Student, University of Texas at Austin

UTSA Pathways was instrumental in developing my identity as a researcher and graduate student. The other day, I described my experiences as being in a rocket, and Pathways provided the fuel to take off and get one step closer to my goals as a researcher. During my time, I made it a priority to be curious, always. I did this by attending all seminars offered and asking questions—even questions that I thought were not the right ones to ask at the time. You never know who may share a similar experience or perhaps a differing one to support you in your endeavors. Be bold and use your voice as an instrument to understand the world of research and graduate school during this exciting journey. It is crucial to get into this mindset because this will be your experience, perhaps your first. You will want to make sure that you are well prepared for this process as an aspiring researcher and scholar because this is your future. With that said, my number one piece of advice is to look inward to reflect on your own life experiences. Use these thoughts to feed your inner sense of self because you know more than anyone what you want for your future to be.

Erica Zamora

Pathways ProgramCalifornia State University, Sacramento

Doctoral Student, University of Arizona

The Pathway Fellows Program had a tremendous impact on my growth as a scholar and education researcher. My advice to students is to engage in research that not only reflect their scholarly interests but also reflect their values as community members and educators. My experience in the program gave me a deeper understanding of the importance of social justice and equity work in research. Education has the potential to transform communities and encourage growth and development while perpetuating various forms of oppression. Engaging in education research that centers the voices of and the issues that historically marginalized groups experience could lead to transformative outcomes at postsecondary institutions.


Written by Katina Stapleton (, co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council. She is also the program officer for the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program and the new Early Career Mentoring Program for Faculty at Minority Serving Institutions, the two IES training programs for minority serving institutions, including Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions, American Indian Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Predominantly Black Institutions, Native American-Serving, Nontribal Institutions, and any other minority-serving institution as specified in request for applications. 

This blog is part of an ongoing series featuring IES training programs as well as our blog series on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) within IES grant programs. For more information, see this DEIA update from Commissioners Elizabeth Albro (National Center for Education Research) and Joan McLaughlin (National Center for Special Education Research).

First-Ever RISE Awardee Announced

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom.

Need a reason for celebration? In the Recognition Programs Unit of ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach, we have several of them spread throughout the year.  The newest recognition award joining the family, structured to shine a spotlight good work and ignite more positive contributions, while engaging state and local stakeholders with their federal education agency, is the Recognizing Inspiring School Employees award.

In April 2019, Congress passed the Recognizing Achievement in Classified School Employees Act enabling the U.S. Department of Education to begin honoring one extraordinary education support professional annually and that fall, ED launched the first cycle of the award, with nominations from governors and state education agencies, often working together, due by November 1, 2020.

Even under pandemic circumstances, ED received 32 nominations from 20 states for the RISE award including nominations for paraprofessionals, nutrition workers, custodians, security personnel, bus drivers, and other paraprofessionals. Their contributions to schools and students – especially during this pandemic year – were remarkable. The 18 internal and external reviewers remarked just how deserving they ALL were! For this reason, ED has encouraged every participating state to honor its finalists.

While we received many inspiring stories, one individual stood out. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona selected Mr. Melito Ramirez, Intervention Specialist, at Walla Walla High School, in Walla Walla, Washington for this honor, announcing the award in this video.

Secretary Miguel Cardona announces first-ever RISE award recipient

Over his distinguished 40-year career, Ramirez has worked for multiple school districts in more than a dozen different roles such as migrant home visitor, summer school coordinator, special education secretary, and bus driver. Ramirez now conducts home visits, bridges the gap between home and school for Spanish speaking families, and works to secure the mental health and technological resources students need.

Ramirez is known for his help in organizing a multilingual adult night school. He supports students as they apply for and participate in youth leadership programs — including rising well before dawn each weekend to drive them five hours to programming across the state. Ramirez is also credited with diminishing tensions among rival gang members in the 1990s when gang conflict was high in the Walla Walla area by coordinating supervised out-of-school activities.

Mr. Ramirez with his award

Today, we celebrate Mr. Ramirez for demonstrating courage and resourcefulness over decades of service. We are reminded of the critical work of all classified school employees in supporting student success.  Individuals interested in nominating or applying should contact their governor’s office to inquire about state-specific process. Governors’ office and state education agency program administrators may contact with any questions and to indicate a state’s plans to participate for the coming cycle.  We look forward to celebrating many education support professionals in the years to come!

Andrea Suarez Falken is Director of the Recognizing Inspiring School Employees Award, as well as Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, and ED’s Facilities, Health, and Environment Liaison.

Trust the Process and Be Proactive

Back in summer of 2011, I remember attending my first-year orientation of my undergraduate journey at the University of Arizona.  I specifically remember the session where I had the chance to declare a major before building my schedule for the fall semester. For some inexplicable reason, I was really drawn to the family studies and human development major but ended up declaring a major in nutrition. I made this decision because at the time I was convinced that I was going to become a pediatrician and needed a major that would put me on the track to be prepared for medical school.

Flash forward to the end of my first semester of college, and I realized that the nutrition major was not going to be for me. Just in that semester, I had taken two science labs and lectures, which were challenging. Looking through the course plan for the next three years, I saw that the science courses only continued to stack up! I stopped myself for moment and made an appointment with the academic adviser for family studies and human development major. I met with her and decided that this major fit my interests better.

While I enjoyed the classes in my new major, I now had to rethink my long-term plan given that my interests and long-term plans did not align. I debated the route I would take after college. I contemplated various graduate school plans such as working towards a master’s in social work, a law degree, or a master’s in marriage and family therapy. All I was sure of was that I wanted to give back to the Hispanic community and work with families.

My junior year rolled around and a random e-mail popped into my inbox about a paid summer experience. I applied to the program not knowing how much it would change my life and lead me right to where I needed to be. The program I had applied for was the McNair Scholars Program, which supports underrepresented students in the pursuit of a Ph.D.

Before the program, I didn’t know what a Ph.D. was or that I could make a career out of research. Through this program, I learned about conducting research, but most importantly, I learned how I could support the Hispanic community through research endeavors. The program supported me through the doctoral program application process and helped me build my confidence in my future! I applied to 10 doctoral programs, from which I was accepted to seven. I am thankful to the amazing McNair Scholars director who helped me through the complicated decision process for choosing a doctoral program. I choose to pursue my Ph.D. in human development and family studies at the Pennsylvania State University.

I always knew which area of research I wanted to pursue. Now, I am less than one year away from completing my Ph.D. in human development and family studies and now I’m looking to pursue a career in policy and research. My advice to those who may be just starting their higher education journey is to always trust yourself in your decisions because only you know yourself best. Also, it’s okay to not have your full plan figured out right away. At the same time, make sure you use the resources (professors, advisers, programs, friends, community center, etc.) around you to help you through the process. Sometimes, it is the experiences and times of confusion that lead us straight to the career we have always envisioned. Even as doctoral student, I changed my career plans. The world is full of opportunities, go get them, be proactive and trust yourself!

Lorena Aceves is a doctoral student at the Pennsylvania State University and a summer 2019 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

The Challenge of College

For me, I knew that every part of the K-12 educational journey was meant to prepare me to get accepted into a great college. The application process was challenging and competitive, yet I managed to be accepted to a great state school. However, what happened after I got in was a foreign concept to me, and I was unaware of what was to come. So much focus had been placed on getting into college, but no one ever told me how to succeed once there. For instance, my freshman classes averaged two hundred students and were filled with classmates who had graduated at the top of their class from prestigious high schools. The thought of raising my hand and asking for help while hundreds of pairs of eyes stared at me was horrifying. Therefore, I attempted to do it on my own and pretended that I knew what was happening in class.

The reality was that I could not keep up with the material, especially in my biological calculus course. The class was more advanced than what I had learned in high school, and I did not have strong studying and organizational habits. As hard as I tried, I scored poorly on my exams, and my confidence started to break down. I felt alone as I watched my classmates earn higher grades and answer questions without hesitation. I felt like I could not tell my parents because they had so much to worry about back home and were already having a hard time with me being away. If I dropped the class, then I would no longer be a full-time student. This meant that I would lose some of my financial aid, which I could not afford to do. The idea of failing this class continued to cross my mind, and it dawned on me what a failure I was. I couldn’t help but think of my family members, teachers and scholarship donors who had believed in me. I am not sure whether it was fear, pride or a bit of both that led me to remain silent and not ask for help.

I was home over winter break when I received my grade, and I couldn’t keep this away from my parents any longer. I had earned a D in biological calculus. I thought that they would be disappointed. I worried that they would feel as if all the sacrifices they had made for my future would go down the drain because of this mark on my transcript. However, my mom’s reaction could not have been more graceful and understanding. Instead, she wiped away my tears and asked about my struggles through the class.

I had allowed for my struggles to eat me up inside for so long. However, I came to realize that this one grade did not have to define me, my parents’ sacrifices, or the community I represent. I did not need to burden myself with thoughts of being a disappointment or another hopeless statistic. What would truly define this moment in my college career would be my next steps. That winter break I searched through all the resources on my school’s website, re-read my new student handbook, and found ways to improve my time management and study habits. I began the semester by meeting with my advisor and older college friends, making appointments at the academic success center, and attending the tutoring sessions. I learned the importance of shining light on my weaknesses and advocating for myself.

Each university has a wide variety of resources, whether you are struggling with academics, living situations, mental health, or finances. There are people who can offer guidance and support. However, no one can help you if you don’t admit that you need it and ask for it. Since then, my GPA has improved each semester, and I am not afraid to raise my hand in class when I am lost. I have encouraged younger students to self-advocate. I remind them that hardships will come, but they can decide how they respond. Most importantly, I have continued to rely on the unconditional love and support from my parents by sharing all parts of my college experience, even the most challenging ones.

Valentina Tovar is a graduate of Texas A&M University and a Summer 2018 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Follow the Rainbow of Happiness

As a first-generation student, I felt intimidated by the idea of college. I knew I wanted to attend college but had no idea what college entailed other than  anecdotal experiences I had heard from my teachers. I was accepted and offered a substantive financial aid package from the University of California, Merced (UC Merced). My high school A.V.I.D. teacher, Mr. Beale, emphasized the importance of moving, “as far away as possible to reach [my] full potential.” I chose to attend UC Merced with high academic expectations. I grew up in San Diego, CA, only ten minutes away from the border in a busy city full of diversity. Moving to UC Merced put me nine hours away from my family and in a rural area that I never had experienced. The geographic and ethnic demographic of UC Merced was something that impacted me in a way I had never experienced. For instance, I had never even seen a sky so vividly dark with little light pollution.

I had also never lived on my own without my family and at the age of seventeen, everything felt new, exciting, and intimidating. While I created a strong support system at UC Merced, I still had severe issues with self-efficacy. I felt insecure as if I wasn’t at the same academic rigor as my peers. This comparison was self-deteriorating. It affected the way I saw myself, how I interacted with others, and externally affected my academics. I wasn’t happy where I was at.

I signed up for the Success Mentor Program, an organization that paired me up with a mentor. I was paired with Diana Hernandez. The Success Mentor Program allowed for growth in a way that was fully supported by my mentor. Meetings with my mentor were decided by us and our conversations were not limited. I was supported in every way possible, and Diana always had a resource for any issue that arose. I felt comfortable speaking with her about any topic, which also made me feel confident in any new experience I would have. I had someone who was older, wiser, and successful guiding me over similar obstacles she had experienced. More importantly, Diana fully understood my discomfort about being in an environment where I felt like I did not belong. She explained, “When you feel like that, remember that every single person is in that room with you. No one is better than another; you are all in the same room.This continues to resonate with me.

Although one person could not cure my self-efficacy issues, it burst a sense of confidence in the way that I approached college. But, building a sense of confidence was only one step towards the ladder of achievement. I was placed on academic probation during my first year of college and was forced to re-evaluate my focus and happiness. I was a bio-engineering major at that time and was more interested in writing than any other course work. I changed majors to Management and Business Economics with a minor in Professional Writing. I felt like I had failed myself in that point of time. However, this decision changed my perception. I had the opportunity to pursue activities that I enjoyed. Previously, I consistently felt drained studying material that I did not find as interesting as writing. This was the first time I was able to turn a hobby into something professional. I often wrote for fun but didn’t think I could make tangible change through my writing. I joined The Prodigy News, The UC Merced school newspaper, and was able to witness the impact that writing had and its potential for stirring up change when utilized properly. This thirst for change led me to join the Associated Students of University of California, Merced.

This change of mindset created a ripple effect on my of happiness. Even when college got increasingly more difficult and I felt like quitting, I didn’t because what I was doing made me feel happy and fulfilled. I sincerely encourage others to follow their rainbow of happiness. Go apply for jobs, join organizations, and enroll in classes that create a sense of inner fulfillment. If you do things that make you happy, you will always want to move forward.

Katherine Cervantes is a graduate of the University of California, Merced and a Fall 2017 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Falling Into Place

“Congratulations! You have been accepted into the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.” When I read that line, I was clearly excited, but then wondered, what now? So many thoughts rushed into my mind. Will I make friends? Will I enjoy college? What will be my major? I had numerous things to contemplate. While there were social concerns, I wanted to focus on my academic concerns because these were things that I had control over. So, I spent hours researching in front of the computer, brainstorming different degree plans, comparing how they connected for my future aspirations, and eating tons of sweets to keep my stress tolerable. At this point of my life, I only knew two things: one, I was going to college; and two, I wanted to become an attorney. In fact, my dream career was to become an immigration lawyer. However, what was my major in college going to be?

I knew what subjects I liked and what I didn’t like. I knew that physical science was not my passion; English was interesting. History intrigued me. But would I be happy for four years in those majors? Probably not. What was left? The only one I thought of was government. That is what I craved. When I was checking the list of majors along with their degree plans, I kept my goal of becoming an attorney at the back of my mind. I knew that all majors were accepted by law schools, so no major was more desirable than another. It was my choice on what field of study I wanted to spend the next four years. I asked myself a few questions. What was I most interested in? What will best prepare me for law school? What if I do not want to become a lawyer anymore? What will be my backup plan? After all this thinking, I solidified my decision to major in political science.

With my goal of becoming an attorney, I knew that studying government would be beneficial. Majoring in political science interested me because I felt that it would give me a foundation of what would be the beginning of my future career. I knew that this major was perfect for me when I took the course Constitutional Law: Civil Liberties. This class was one of the hardest classes I have ever taken, but it expanded my knowledge on every level—political, social, and personal. Despite its difficulty, I knew in my gut that I made the right choice.

Today, I can truthfully say that I made the right decision. Studying political science in college made a positive impact on my goal to be an attorney. Without making this decision, I would have never been able to intern for a federal agency, study and prepare for the LSAT, and start applications for law school. So, I would like to say, trust your instinct and be informed as you follow your dreams.

Crystal Guerva is a graduate of The University of Texas of the Permian Basin and she was a Fall 2017 U.S. Department of Education intern.

On the Road to College: Exploring and Taking Chances

Growing up, I was a very curious child, and I am very grateful that my parents always fostered this trait in me. This curiosity always served me well in school, but there were limits. My mind could only imagine and explore things it was already been exposed to, and in some areas, there was much that I, a first-generation American with high-school educated parents, missed out on. Because my parents never attended college, I lacked the deep knowledge about college that my peers seemed to have. I never dreamed about attending an esteemed university or having an extraordinary career, and it wasn’t until beginning the college application process in my senior year that I really started thinking about what college and career would be best for me.

It was during this time period when I was particularly thankful for my curiosity. Once I finally realized how much knowledge I lacked about college, I was not disappointed that I was so far behind my peers. Rather, I was relieved. One of the main reasons students don’t achieve high levels of success is because they aren’t aware of available resources—basically, they don’t know what they don’t know. Because I was now aware of what I needed to learn, I was able to harness my curiosity to fuel my college and career search. Not wanting to stray too far from home, I applied to several Texas universities. Luckily, I was granted admission to each of my top choice schools, but I still had a tremendous amount of stress. I had no clue how I was going to pay for school, and I knew there was little my mother could do to support me.

However, during the fall of my senior year, I received an email that gave me hope. One of the programs at another school I applied to, the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), was looking for applicants, and although it wasn’t my top choice school, driven by my curiosity, I checked out the opportunity. I found that their Top Scholar program provided everything I could possibly need: a full merit scholarship, a close-knit community of friends, one-on-one connections with faculty mentors, and a funded study abroad experience. It sounded too perfect, like something that would be for only the best of the best—something I could certainly never get into. Despite my doubt, I stared at the application every day until one day, I had the guts to fill it out and turn it in right before the deadline. For a couple weeks, I forgot about it and went on with my scholarship search, until I received an email with good news: I was offered an interview for the program.

A couple of weeks of stress, one interview, and some anxious tears later, I was offered a spot in the UTSA Top Scholar program, one of the most life-changing opportunities I have received in my life. With my family’s support, I accepted the offer and finalized my acceptance to UTSA. A couple months later, without the burden of financial stress and a promise of new opportunities, I was able to leave home for college with an excitement untainted by any stress and grateful for the chances this program was giving me. Had I never read the initial email with information about the Top Scholar program, I don’t know where I would be, but I’m thankful I took the chance.

Even with the financial burden of college out of the picture, transitioning into college was still a difficult experience. As a college freshman and first-generation college student, I was in a new land—one that hundreds of hours of research probably could not have prepared me for. I was hundreds of miles away from my family and friends, and I felt like I was already falling behind before I even began. Luckily, the community I had in my scholarship program gave me the support I needed to adjust to college life. Because the program was small, with only about 19 people, and most of us lived in a dorm together, the group was tight-knit. These people immediately became my best friends; we ate meals together, studied together, joined the same organizations, and even took some of the same classes. In a couple of weeks, I no longer felt as though I was alone at my university. I had friends that genuinely cared about me and with similar interests, ambition, and dedication to doing well in school.

When you are young, you feel comfortable exploring, even if you are alone, because you know you have a home to come back to; this program and my peers became home to me. Because of them, I became more comfortable at UTSA and gained more confidence to begin exploring what my school had to offer. I took any opportunity I could find to try something new, such as taking classes outside my major, joining organizations that looked interesting, and utilizing my connections to talk to people about their careers.

None of that would have been possible without my new family, and especially, my willingness to take chances. Maybe I have had good luck in the past, but I firmly believe in taking risks and that trying out different paths is one of the most important things you can do in life. I would not be where I am now without taking chances, and I can only imagine where I would be if I tried to stifle the curiosity that carried me to where I am now.

Brianna Diaz was a Fall 2017 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and a graduate of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

Moving Away From Home for College — Some Advice


I am from a small community in northern California. My parents are older than most of my friends’ parents and neither of them speaks English. For many years I acted as their eyes, ears, and feet, translating for them at doctor appointments, the pharmacy, school, etc. As soon as I turned 16, I learned how to drive so I could take my mother, who does not know how to drive, wherever she needed to go, whether it was to appointments, the grocery store, and/or work.

When it came time to attend college, I decided to take a huge risk and move down to southern California to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). I had no relatives in southern California, so my parents were not too excited about me living seven hours away, by myself. Moving to Long Beach also meant I had to move out of my home, and although my parents would have liked to support me, I knew that was an expense they could not assume. I applied for many scholarships, and fortunately received enough to make the move to CSULB. It was not an easy decision, but it was the best decision I could have ever made.

Being in Long Beach was not always easy, and I felt very lonely at times. More than once I found myself questioning if the degree was worth being so far away from my family. During those hard times, I had to remind myself why I was at school and who I was doing this for. By receiving a good education, I was not only following my dreams and opening doors to many opportunities for myself, but I was also carrying the dreams of my family and an entire generation. I would think about how hard my father worked in the fields every day, and how all my educational accomplishments always brought a smile to his face. I liked to think I was paying my father back for all of his hard work by pursuing my higher education goals. Every time I thought that I couldn’t do it anymore, I thought of all the hard work I had already done to be here, and that motivated me to continue persevering.

Not every day was hard, though. During my first year at CSULB, I joined many organizations. My colleagues at the Beach Engineering Student Success Team (BESST), College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), and the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA) became my family away from home. From these organizations, I found new friends and studying partners that helped me have a successful first year of college. Thanks to one of these organizations, CAMP, I was selected for this internship with the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. I am also extremely thankful for BESST, and all of the doors it has opened for me. By providing me with a student mentor and allowing me to mentor high school girls interested in STEM, BESST assisted me with tutoring and introduced me to a group of people that I share a common interest with.

With my degree, I want to be an astronaut. This career path is why I chose mechanical engineering for my major, and I hope to continue on this track after I graduate. One of the top goals of space exploration is visiting Mars, and I want to help achieve this goal. Reaching Mars is not only my dream, but the dream of my generation. I am not doing this for myself, but for everyone. We all have a calling, and I believe exploring space is mine.

If I could give any high school senior advice, it would be to take the risk. It will hard to be away from home, but it will be worth it in the end. It allowed me to give my undivided attention to my academics and forced me to interact with my peers, who then became my community.

Rebeca Saray Griego is a college sophomore at California State University, Long Beach. She was a 2017 summer intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.


Student Teaching Paved the Way for Life in the Classroom

Prior to my final semester in high school, I felt conflicted about the idea of teaching. My whole life I watched my mother teach countless students in low-income populations, where she had both positive and negative experiences. Growing up, I wanted to do anything except teach; it was at the bottom of my list of career choices. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school, when I volunteered in my mother’s classroom, that I found the joy in teaching. I felt as though this was something I was called to do; I felt like I found my fit.

Throughout college, I had observed, volunteered, interned, and taught mini-lessons at various low- and high-income classrooms around Austin, Texas. I learned from teachers with different styles of teaching, all with their own unique teaching philosophy embedded in their work. All of these experiences led me to and prepared me for my semester-long student teaching adventure during the spring of my senior year, an adventure that left me with unforgettable memories.

As a student teacher, I worked in a classroom, full-time, with the guidance of a seasoned mentor teacher. Even with training, I was extremely nervous for my first time teaching daily lessons. “What if I’m terrible at teaching? What if the kids hate me? What if my mentor teacher hates me? What if I hate teaching?”

My nerves were eased when I started my semester in a lovely, well-behaved, first-grade classroom in a middle-class suburban school in Austin. My mentor teacher was patient, kind, smart, and experienced. She answered all of my questions and entrusted me with the freedom to discover my own teaching style. The reality of teaching didn’t seem so scary anymore, as I became more confident with the help of my mentor and my faculty advisor.

I was fortunate to have been placed in a school that encouraged hands-on learning, had resources available for every student, and had an active parent community, but I was constantly reminded that not every school was like this. Hearing from my classmates and reflecting on past experiences in other schools, I became aware of how many differences exist in the resources, and economic and human capital levels of schools in Austin. I knew that if I wanted to teach after I graduated, I would need the skills I learned while student teaching to succeed in any school environment.

I fell in love with teaching during those four months of student teaching; specifically, the idea of running my classroom and helping students from all backgrounds. As the semester progressed, I started discussing career options with my mentor, professors, career services staff, friends, and most importantly my parents. By the end of the semester, I was excited about teaching a variety of students and knew this was the right move for me. In my heart, I knew I was ready to become a full-time teacher, because of the valuable lessons I learned while student teaching. The support system I had created during my time as an undergraduate guided me toward life after graduation. This experience of student teaching and my community at school made me see that I wanted to teach before I did anything else. I was young and passionate, and student teaching showed me where in the community I was needed.

Following student teaching, I was fortunate to find a teaching position in a low-income area in Austin. Although it was a difficult teaching 90 fourth-graders every day, I remembered the hard lessons I learned in student teaching, and what my mentor teacher, faculty advisor, and mother would say to me. I soon realized that the support system I found during my time in college was still there when I became a full-time teacher. These people were still able to answer my endless questions and advise me during those hard moments. Thinking back on my undergraduate career and journey to becoming a teacher, my time as a student teacher was one of the most important moments for me. Student teaching allowed me to explore my future career and make connections that last to this day.

Bernadette Labrado is a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. She was a summer 2017 intern at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

The Pathway to Teaching: “Get Involved, Ask Questions”

I have always known that I wanted to be a teacher, partly because I grew up surrounded by teachers. I learned to respect and admire their valuable work and impact on students. For many students my age, the idea of becoming a teacher brings back bad memories from their own school experiences.

Even though I had some rough times during my K–12 education, I believe that I can learn from these experiences and become a teacher who will speak for students who had the same problems that I did as a child. While I think teaching is an extremely rewarding and important profession, I have met some people who look down upon my decision to become a teacher, because they think I can do more than “just teach.” I never believed there was such thing as “just teach,” for teaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and I am lucky enough to have supportive friends and family who feel the same way.

I began thinking seriously about my career as a teacher when I started college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I am now a senior pursuing a Spanish major and my licensure to teach Spanish in secondary schools. At UMass Amherst, I am grateful that I became close with my professors and teaching assistants. In fact, one of them helped me get an internship working with English language learner students at a local middle school. This experience was amazing, because it allowed me to use what I had learned in my classes and gave me the chance to connect with students and learn about their lives.

A particular incident during this internship really confirmed my love for teaching. I was introduced to a student from Colombia with limited English proficiency, and his teacher explained to me that he had been struggling with algebra. After sitting with the student and showing him how to solve a two-step equation, he told me that for the first time he actually understood what was going on in the classroom. I was touched that I was capable of impacting this student’s life and helping him adjust to school in the U.S.

My pathway to becoming a classroom teacher has not been easy. My parents and I have had many arguments trying to understand the workings of college, but as a first-generation college student, I found that many schools have resources to help students succeed. Two resources that I found particularly beneficial were the financial aid office, and learning communities, where you can work and connect with students who have similar interests and academic goals.  Additionally, during my first year I often connected with my resident advisor and peer mentor to ask about academics and upcoming events. I am grateful to attend a college that helped me every step of the way.

I look forward to becoming a teacher and providing support for my students, especially when I can empathize with what they are going through. I’m excited about being able to help students make successful transitions from high school to their post-high school lives and to support them the same way my teachers supported me.

If I could give advice to students going into college, regardless of the type of school or discipline they are pursuing, I would say this: Get involved; do not be afraid to ask questions; and think about how you can make a change in this world. Doing these things has helped me tremendously in preparing for my career and gaining confidence in my choice to become a teacher.

Evan Greenwald is a college senior at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He was a summer 2017 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics