There’s a lot we as Americans can learn from other countries and how they set their students up for successful lives and careers. That’s why as part of my first trip abroad as Secretary I chose to visit Switzerland and witness their innovative approach to apprenticeships. There this sort of educational opportunity is not only the norm, it is highly coveted by students!
In Switzerland, the education sector partners closely with businesses to provide apprenticeships for students in a variety of professions. Two-thirds of current Swiss students pursue their education through one of the 250 types of government-recognized apprenticeships. Meanwhile, only 17 percent of U.S. students have worked in an internship or apprenticeship related to their career goals.
Swiss apprenticeships include programs for welders and carpenters, like they do in the U.S., but Swiss students can also apprentice in the healthcare, finance and law fields as well. In fact, CEOs of multiple major Swiss companies began their careers as apprentices. That’s not commonplace in America, but perhaps it should be!
Such a robust culture of technical education demonstrates three key things. First, that young people can be productive members of the workforce. Second, that businesses should take an active role in cultivating the next generation of talent. And third, that hands-on learning should not be seen as a last resort for those who struggle in a traditional classroom setting. All students benefit when they have the chance to apply what they are learning in school to solve problems and accomplish practical applications in the workplace.
There are a multitude of paths a student can pursue in higher education, and each should be seen as valid. If a path is the right fit for the student, then it’s the right education. No stigma should stand in the way of a student’s journey to success.
That’s why President Trump directed his Administration to find ways to expand apprenticeships back here at home. We joined with leaders from business, labor and education with the charge to expand the number of options to “earn and learn”, and to encourage the private sector and higher education to advance this important opportunity for our nation’s economic future. We made a number of concrete, common-sense recommendations, which you can learn more about here.
It’s true that education in the United States isn’t exactly the same as it is in Switzerland, and that U.S. companies don’t have the same experience in delivering apprenticeships as Swiss companies. But there’s still much that we can learn from the Swiss model. It’s our hope that Swiss companies operating in the U.S. will help lead the way by setting the best examples for other U.S. businesses to participate in apprenticeships. The many opportunities apprenticeships afford students are worth highlighting and expanding, and we’ll continue to do so.
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.
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.
Over the past several weeks there has been much discussion around how school discipline policies can ensure a safe and supportive climate where children can learn. While there are many different approaches, everyone agrees that discrimination against any student is abhorrent and wrong. Federal laws prohibit such discrimination in our nation’s schools, and the Department’s Office for Civil Rights vigorously enforces these civil rights laws to ensure equal access to education.
According to the Civil Rights Data Collection, African-American students are subject to exclusionary discipline (such as suspensions or expulsions) at higher rates than white students. The data show similar patterns for other groups: for example, boys are suspended more often than girls, as are students with disabilities when compared to students without disabilities. It was in response to this data that the prior administration issued a Dear Colleague Letter, or federal guidance, to states and school districts instructing them to adopt new approaches to school discipline so as to ensure that these students are not disproportionately impacted. Many in the education community cheered this guidance as a positive step.
But since the guidance was released, many educators, parents and students have raised concerns that schools have actually become less safe by restricting teachers’ and administrators’ ability to maintain order in their classrooms. They claim that the guidance ignores the law and places statistics over students without addressing the behavior of individual students and how educators should respond and discipline students when necessary. They view the guidance as creating an unsafe environment that has harmed learning.
That’s why earlier this week the Department hosted two listening sessions about the 2014 guidance. We brought in teachers, parents, students, administrators, researchers, advocates and union representatives to hear their varying views on whether the guidance should be kept as is, amended or rescinded.
We heard powerful testimony from many individuals. One teacher from Massachusetts told us about the economically distressed community in which she teaches, and how out-of-school suspensions could put students in a dangerous environment with little oversight. A school district representative from Illinois described how implementation of social-emotional learning practices in her district helped students learn to settle their differences without violence, and helped foster a nurturing school environment, which they may not experience at home.
Yet one teacher from North Carolina described how the district’s change in discipline policies imposed severe constraints on teachers’ abilities to control their classrooms. Order in the classroom quickly deteriorated, making it impossible for students to learn. This teacher noted that the unsafe climate in schools caused many teachers to leave the profession in the last few years, further hurting students’ ability to learn and grow.
Another teacher from New York described how students would regularly threaten their peers and teachers, but school administrators would not allow students to be disciplined, citing the need to reduce the number of suspensions. A former administrator from California told us that after her district changed its discipline policies, schools would send kids home informally to avoid impacting the schools’ suspension rates.
These listening sessions made clear that while progress is being made for some students and educators, the situation for others has worsened. We as a country cannot be satisfied until all students have access to a safe and nurturing learning environment where they can grow and thrive. As a country, we must honor that promise to our nation’s students.
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
As a young Latina in middle school witnessing my parents’ financial struggle, I knew I wanted to attend a four-year university right after high school graduation. Ever since migrating from Mexico 25 years ago, my father has worked in the agriculture fields and my mom at Wendy’s. Although my parents struggled to provide food and pay bills, they never failed to give love and support. Therefore, I wanted to repay them by going straight to a four-year university and having a better future.
In high school, I decided to become a well-rounded student so I could get into a four-year university. I was involved in various student organizations and activities, such as tennis, Interact Club, Advancement Via Individual Determination, and a Christian -based club. I even held leadership positions in high school, such as associated student vice president and Art Club president. I not only took my extracurricular activities seriously, but also my academics. I was enrolled in an honors program, took Advanced Placement courses, and was a dual-enrollment student at Taft College, which was close to my California home. When my junior year came, I took the ACT and SAT countless times, but I was not able to improve my scores since I was not a good test taker. Although that was a barrier for me, I still had faith that I would get accepted into a four-year university of my choice.
As a senior, I was accepted into two colleges out of 14 where I applied. I was devastated because I was attached to this expectation that I was going to attend a four-year university outside of my community. I decided to attend Taft College because I was familiar with the faculty and the success it had with transferring students to four-year colleges. Although I was disappointed, there was a particular scholarship that restored my faith: the Holmes Family Education and Training Foundation scholarship.
In the weeks following my decision to attend Taft, I met up with my Holmes Family scholarship mentor named Cindy Patterson. I explained to her everything that had happened, and she gave me this piece of advice: “God made you stay in your community for a reason. He will not tell you why right now, but once you have graduated from Taft College. Have faith.” Of course, I was at a point where I was questioning life, so it was difficult for me to understand what she was trying to tell me. Therefore, during my first year I just wanted to leave college because I had worked so hard in high school and was frustrated that I was not able to fulfill my dream of going to a four-year university of my choice.
As a Taft College freshman, my mentality was “go big or go home.” I was determined to make it to the college of my choice. So I decided that the University of Southern California would be my goal. I became occupied with planning how I would get there, and how my life would be attending USC. As a result, I applied as an incoming sophomore, not knowing that USC would still be looking at my ACT and SAT scores. Unfortunately, I was not offered admission. Once again, I was left with questioning my purpose and direction. Coming into my sophomore year, I reevaluated my mindset. Looking back at the advice my mentor gave me, I decided to give my burdens to God and say, “If I was meant to stay to keep on helping my community, let it be, and I’ll continue with my education locally.” I began appreciating life and my community. Once the time came to apply again as a transfer student, I applied to 14 schools. At the end of my sophomore year, I was accepted to my top choices: USC, UCLA, Pepperdine University, California State University, San Luis Obispo, and UC- Irvine.
I chose to transfer to the University of Southern California. When I got there, I decided to keep the mindset I had developed in community college. I studied public policy with an emphasis on nonprofits and social innovation. I chose this major because it would allow me to learn more about how to help under-resourced communities become successful. At USC, I am part of Students for Education Reform (president), Kappa Delta Chi Sorority, and Hermanas Unidas. Today, I am not only a senior, but I am also studying for a master’s of public administration degree at USC through their Progressive Degree Program. It allows me to begin graduate school work at the same time I am finishing requirements for my bachelor’s degree.
I have learned that a community college can give folks experiences and prepare them for different options. The transfer process was similar to what I went through in high school when I applied to colleges. The four-year colleges expect you to do very well academically and outside of the classroom. The only difference is that after completing a certain number of units, the colleges no longer look at your SAT/ACT scores. Even though I took my academics seriously, I took helping my community just as seriously. At my community college, I created a program called College is Out There, which helps seventh- through 12th-graders from Lost Hills, California, on college readiness. I also worked for groups like Wonderful Education and Youth 2 Leaders Education Foundation, and I was active in migrant education issues. Looking back, I believe I was meant to stay at my community college so I could learn about how to help small communities. I applied that knowledge later at USC when I begin helping larger cities with their higher education.
Ultimately, I helped the students of Kern County, California, set their goals as high as they possibly could, and if life did not go their way, then to build the tenacity to keep fighting on like I did. This approach helped me become the executive intern for the co-founder of the Ednovate charter schools in Los Angeles, and a summer intern for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics in Washington, D.C. I have also become a prime example of what you are able to achieve, no matter how many times life knocks you down; as long as you have the hunger to succeed, you will do anything to keep going.
At the end of the day, I have to thank my parents, who decided to come to the United States from Mexico so our family could have a better future. From my triumphs to my disappointments, my parents have always received me with open arms. They remind me every day that if God is for us, who can be against us? Therefore, I keep fighting on.
Roxanna Barboza is a senior at the University of Southern California. She was a 2017 Summer Intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.
As I reflect on my experience as a White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) intern, I cannot help but think about all the people in my life — in particular my mother — who have supported me in all the decisions I have made to this point in my young career. Not in my wildest dreams could I have pictured myself in this position.
Without a doubt, the past few months have been a unique time to be in the country’s capital. Through the countless interactions I have had with staff, I have noticed an underlying theme of optimism and compassion for public education. I have learned a lot in this short period of time, and the exposure to many new people and ideas has reinvigorated my desire to teach. Today, approximately a quarter of K–12 public school students in the United States are Hispanic, yet only 8 percent of the teacher workforce is Hispanic, and only 2 percent are Latino males. There is a need for more teachers of color. At the Initiative, strides have been made to highlight the experiences of Latino educators in our K–12 public schools through the #LatinosTeach campaign. Reading through their stories and journeys was very motivating for me.
I realized early on in my college career that education was a subject I felt strongly about. I also knew through my experiences that, unfortunately for many Latino students seeking to go to college, the quality of education they receive in their neighborhoods could prevent them from attending. Through my support system and the preparation I received, I successfully passed my credentialing exams for multiple-subject, Spanish dual-immersion. This school year is my first as a teacher through Teach for America at Bayview Elementary School in San Pablo, California, just a few blocks away from my home. Every year until high school, I recall waking up my siblings on summer mornings to grab free breakfast at Bayview. Francis, the lunch lady, had known us over the years and would always stuff our backpacks with extra lunches to take home. This simple gesture would cultivate my sense of community, and the idea of giving back.
To further my passion for drawing more Latino males into teaching, I plan to attend graduate school in education leadership. Professor Arnetha Ball at Stanford University describes the notion of the “knowing-doing gap” in education research as the difficulty the researchers face in efficiently applying findings to practice. Researchers have found that students of color accumulate more academic benefits from same-race teachers, or when teachers represent and are sensitive to all racial backgrounds. With this in mind, I want be a research activist in education policy and take the necessary steps to apply research to policy, with hopes that I can draw more Latino males into teaching positions.
During my time at the Initiative, I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and I came across a simple yet powerful quote: “Teach the children the truth.” I reflected on the history that I was taught about my Mexican culture and could not recall anything, only the bits my mother and college professors had recounted. I want my own children to develop a richer understanding of their culture; I believe it is crucial for our children to know their roots and be able to navigate this world with a developed cultural identity. I intend to do that as a cultural worker and change agent in my community and many others like it.
Enrique Cornejo is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine and an elementary school teacher. He was a a Spring 2017 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.
The first person to tell me it was worthwhile for an entrepreneur to get a master’s degree in business administration was the founder of a $50 million education company. I don’t remember why he said it was worth it; I just remember that he said it was. I had no idea just how important that statement would be to me five years later, as I have graduated from my MBA program at The George Washington University (GW) School of Business, and have launched my own company, Pocket Palette, a single-use, full-face makeup kit for the woman on the go.
I always knew entrepreneurship was a long-term goal of mine, but I had different plans for my first job out of graduate school. When I started my MBA program at GW, I intended to become a brand manager. I joined the marketing club, signed up for a marketing consulting project with the Ferrero Group, and landed an internship for an insurance company in its marketing department. I was ready to become a marketing professional. And that was only in my first semester.
I switched gears in January of my second semester when I “pitched” my product to classmates for the first time. This idea started in the bathroom at the business school, when I overheard women getting ready for interviews talking about how much they hated having to carry their makeup to school. I asked them if they would use a makeup kit that they could throw away after they were done. They thought my idea was awesome and they encouraged me to patent and pursue it.
And my entrepreneurship journey began. During my MBA program, I participated in workshops, competitions, and networking events. Through these experiences, I learned how to negotiate, balance an income statement, and write a business plan. I learned about international trade, managerial finance, and operations.
Yes, these are all things I could have learned online for free, but by participating in an MBA on-site program, I did it alongside military officers, teachers, financial analysts, founders, engineers, and others. I learned that classmates in my MBA program were the biggest source of education I could have asked for. They challenged and encouraged me to pursue my business, and with all of their support, I entered GW’s New Venture Competition and placed fourth out of 116 teams. I won $7,500 in cash, and over $15,000 in in-kind prizes, all of which are dedicated to launching Pocket Palette.
I am only a few months out of school, and as of right now, I am thankful I made the decision to get my MBA. If I had to do it over again, knowing now that I would go into business for myself, I am 100 percent sure that I would still do it.
Lynda Peralta received her Master of Business Administration from The George Washington University in 2017 and was a Spring 2017 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics
I believe it is important to improve student experiences and the campus climate in institutions of higher education — particularly for Hispanic students — and have made this a personal goal. I plan to accomplish this goal by entering a career in student affairs in higher education.
I became interested in this career during my junior year of college when I conducted a study titled, “Examining the Readiness of a Selective Campus as It Transitions to Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) Status.” In the study, I examined administrators’ perceptions of readiness for a selective university’s transition to becoming a HSI.
I interviewed eight administrators, who described their role at the university and their efforts to create inclusivity, safe spaces, and support for all students. Through my research, I focused on looking at the number of schools that receive HSI funding, and where they allocate their funds. Some common uses of the funds are to create more scholarships for students, increase faculty diversity training, and develop STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs geared towards mentoring Hispanic students. In addition, since many Hispanic students are first-generation students, there is a huge focus on creating programs to help increase student retention among this population. During my research, I saw how administrators turned their passions into careers, which helped me decide to pursue a degree in student affairs.
As a first generation Chicana/Latina, my parents migrated from Mexico before I was born to ensure that I would have more opportunities than I would have had in our small town in Mexico. But when I entered college, I did not know how to navigate the system on my own. Thankfully, through endless support from different organizations, staff and faculty mentors, and peers on campus, I had a successful college experience. I thrived in my studies and joined various campus organizations. I became extensively involved with the student government, the Student Parent Orientation Program, the Cross-Cultural Center, Greek life, and different internship programs.
During my sophomore year, I joined a research lab led by Jeanett Castellanos, a well-known faculty member and mentor at the University of California, Irvine. Here, I joined not only a research lab, but an academic family of students, mostly first generation college students, interested in one day pursuing a graduate degree and making a difference in their community. Through Castellanos and my peers’ endless support and motivation, I am now in graduate school. This fall, I will start my master’s program in higher education, with a concentration in diversity and social justice, at the University of Michigan. My long-term goal is to receive a doctorate in education and become the director of a multicultural center or student life program at a university.
From my experience, I recognized that although many students are attending college to receive an education, some of them are not being supported to the same extent as other students, due to differences in resources made available to them. It may be harder for some students, especially first-generation students, to navigate the system on their own when they do not have the adequate resources to be successful.
My experiences inspired me work to enhance campus experiences, increase student involvement, and ensure that universities provide resources to support all students. I’m pursuing a career in student affairs so I can easily be involved with students and be aware of the different issues surrounding the universities and their campus climates. I would like to return the favor that I was given, and help first-generations students navigate through their college experience and help them achieve academic and professional success.
Carolina Dominguez-Burciaga graduated from the University of California, Irvine in 2017 and was a Spring 2017 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics
I grew up in a working-class family. Both my mother and father work full-time jobs and have instilled the importance of higher education in me and my sister. After much thought and discussion with my family and college counselors, I came to the conclusion that I could still reach my educational goals at a community college. Not everyone can afford the tuition at a four-year university, and I believe that money should not hold students back from furthering their education.
Additionally, community college students should not feel belittled or looked down upon because they did not transition to a four-year institution directly from high school. I often felt underestimated or undervalued because of my choice to attend a community college, but nonetheless, I persevered and am proud to be a part of the 10 percent transfer rate at my community college who go on to complete a degree from a four-year university. My goal is to break the negative stereotypes that people associate with community colleges.
Southwestern College in Chula Vista is one of 113 community colleges in California. It is the only institute of higher education located in the southern portion of San Diego County, and 70 percent of the college is comprised of Hispanic students. Situated just 10 miles away from the San Ysidro Port of Entry, many students cross the Tijuana border daily to receive an education here in the United States. The college is filled with bilingual students, many of whom are first- generation college students. Because of the bicultural environment, Southwestern College is special. It is not uncommon to have peers who wake up at 5 a.m., walk across the international border from Mexico, catch the 6:30 a.m. trolley, and then hop onto the next bus that takes them directly to Southwestern College, just so they can make their 8 a.m. class on time. This is the routine of many students, and it is because of these students, who show incredible dedication and a passion for learning, that I feel motivated to put the same amount of effort into my own education.
With this mindset, I became actively involved in Southwestern College. Southwestern College’s newspaper, The Sun, is a national, award-winning paper and has been recognized as the top college newspaper in the nation. I decided to join the newspaper staff so I could learn more about writing, interviewing, and acting as a voice within my community. I served as the assistant editor for the sports section while also working in the online, broadcast, and social media sections. I was nominated for, and won, the Student of Distinction Award, a selective award given to only 10 students at the college each year who demonstrate leadership on campus. I obtained a 3.8 GPA and was a student athlete for two years, as a starter on the women’s soccer team. I interviewed governing board members, attended newspaper competitions, won awards for my articles and video-packages, but most importantly, I transferred to a university.
After three amazing, memorable years at the community college, I graduated with honors from Southwestern and was admitted to San Diego State University. Next year, I will be graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in public relations and a minor in political science. I had an easy transition to San Diego State, because I felt prepared after having three years of college under my belt from Southwestern. It also feels great knowing I will be leaving college debt-free, having taken out no loans. I used community college as my launching pad. I took advantage of the resources on campus, joined the nationally-awarded newspaper staff, received academic awards, and fully prepared myself both mentally and professionally for San Diego State. If you stay focused and believe that you can transfer to a four-year university, you will.
Community colleges are a great option for students with financial setbacks and for those who simply may not be ready for such a big transition to a four-year university directly from high school. Save money, learn as much as you can, make connections, challenge yourself, and help raise community college transfer rates. Si se puede [Yes you can]!
Stefanie Tellez is a college senior at San Diego State University and was a 2016-2017 Virtual Intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics