Keeping the Promise: Announcing a New



Hi. I’m Mark Brown, the chief operating officer at Federal Student Aid (FSA). Today marks my first post on the Homeroom blog, and do I have exciting news for you!—your trusted source to learn about, apply for, and manage your federal student aid—is all new and better than ever! Let me explain …

Each year, FSA’s top-four websites are visited more than 120 million times. These sites offer a wide variety of information, tools, and resources:

  • provides information and videos about all of the federal student aid programs.
  • Borrowers go to to complete loan documents and counseling, as well as recertify for income-driven repayment plans.
  • At, students, parents, and borrowers can create an account username and password to log in to U.S. Department of Education systems.
  • The NSLDS® website provides students, parents, and borrowers with specific information about their federal grants and loans and eligibility.

Now, the new combines functionality from,, and into a single, one-stop shop for you. Think of it like a new “digital front door,” welcoming you to learn all about and manage your federal student aid.

When you visit the new, you’ll more clearly see information about the federal student aid you’ve received. You can now complete multiple tasks, like learning about what types of aid are available to you, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form, completing loan counseling, and finding the right repayment plan for your situation.

Some students, parents, and borrowers will be introduced to a virtual assistant named “Aidan.” Get it? Aidan? We’re thrilled to pilot this digital resource that uses artificial intelligence to learn how we can better help you get answers to some of your most frequently asked questions. As Aidan learns and is able to answer more specific questions, we’ll roll it out to even more customers.

We’re also implementing some behind-the-scenes features that will improve the way we deliver personalized information and solutions to you. When you’re logged into the new, we’ll be able to directly provide you with information about your federal student loan application.

We’re not stopping there! Now, you only have to call one number—1-800-4-FED-AID—to be connected to all of FSA’s contact centers. And, we’ve made enhancements to our mobile app, myStudentAid, so you can seamlessly switch between completing tasks on the mobile app and web.

We’re making all of these improvements for you, the students, parents, and borrowers, we’re proud to serve. These and other enhancements are part of a big initiative we call “Next Gen FSA,” where we’re modernizing and simplifying how you interact with your federal student aid.

I know how important it is that we get this right for you. I come from a working-class family. My mother and I tried to figure out the best way to get money for college. Through a combination of federal student loans and grants, along with help from the United States Air Force, I was able to pursue my educational dreams.

At FSA, we’re committed to helping you pursue yours. That’s a promise we intend to keep, and today is a big step in our journey.

Throughout the next year in this “Keeping the Promise” blog series, I’ll update you about our Next Gen FSA progress. Until then, I invite you to check out the new, and let me know what you think.

Mark Brown is the Chief Operating Officer of Federal Student Aid

Apprenticeships Are Opportunities

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Labor blog.

An apprentice and a mentor work at a computer station.

As we celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, America’s job seekers are living in a time of historic opportunity.

More than 6 million jobs have been added to the economy since January 2017. The unemployment rate has remained at or below 4% for 20 months in a row, and there are 1.3 million more job openings than job seekers. Today, more than 7 million jobs remain unfilled due to the growing skills gap that exists in the workforce. Many of these vacancies remain unfilled because employers cannot find workers with the right skills.

To bridge the skills gap, President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Order in 2017 outlining tasks and requirements to help modernize America’s education systems and workforce development programs by expanding apprenticeships opportunities for America’s workers.

Apprenticeships offer a way for workers to earn a living while gaining the expertise needed to advance in a career. After the completion of an apprenticeship, the average starting wage is $70,000, and 94% of apprentices will remain employed nine months afterward. The apprenticeship model provides a viable career pathway to high-paying jobs allowing young Americans to avoid the burden of student loans and immediately start earning a salary during their training.

Research shows incredible potential for growing apprenticeships in the United States. A recent study of apprenticeships in 10 states found that participants had significantly higher employment rates and earnings compared to those who did not complete an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships are a proven pathway to middle- and high-skilled jobs. Yet apprentices comprise only 0.3% of the U.S. labor force, which is substantially less than in European countries. Consider for example that in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, 55-70% of young people begin their career with an apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships can also help job creators make sound investments in the future of their businesses. Providing flexible training options creates a more diversified and dynamic workforce that can result in better productivity.

Apprenticeships benefit both job creators and job seekers, and this Administration is working to make high-quality apprenticeships as accessible as possible.

The Department recently awarded more than $183 million in grants to grow apprenticeships in advanced manufacturing, information technology, and health care. The grants will support greater access to apprenticeships for all Americans, including veterans, military spouses, women, people of color, and individuals transitioning from the justice system. These grants represent commitments to more than 85,000 future apprentices in new or expanded programs.

In addition, the Department has received public feedback on the proposed regulation establishing the Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Program. Under the proposal, a diverse array of entities — including trade, industry, and employer groups or associations, educational institutions, state and local government entities, nonprofit organizations, unions, or a consortium or partnership of these entities — could recognize high-quality apprenticeship programs in industries or occupations relevant to their work or areas of interest.

Apprenticeships mean more opportunities for Americans. Whether you are looking for your first job, changing career paths, or reentering the workforce, apprenticeships can create a bright future. As the American job market continues this period of unprecedented growth, the U.S. Department of Labor will keep working to ensure that all Americans have access to the job training they need to further their careers.

Learn more about apprenticeship on, the one-stop source for all things apprenticeship sponsored by the Department of Labor.

John Pallasch is the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training.

A Support System to Uplift My Educational Journey

As a first-generation Mexican-American college student, pursuing higher education was something I once thought was impossible. It wasn’t until my first year in community college that I realized just how badly the K-12 public school system had failed to prepare me for a college education. Not only did I lack the fundamental reading and writing skills but also the social and cultural capital necessary to navigate the system of higher education. During my first year at Santa Monica College, I quickly realized how challenging it was for me to balance family and academic responsibilities. Living in a single-parent household, my mother relied on my financial support to make ends meet. I was pressured to work long hours and find additional time to dedicate to studying. Balancing family and educational commitments became too stressful and eventually impacted my academic performance. Understanding the repercussions of this, I knew it was essential for me to find a support system on campus who could help me navigate the system of higher education and improve my academic performance.

Despite the challenges that confronted me, I took the initiative to reach out to my former English professor, who has been instrumental in my academic and professional career, for guidance and academic support. After my first meeting with him, I began to recognize my potential and ability to enhance my reading and writing skills while becoming critical of my educational goals. This profound transformation allowed me to regain the confidence I needed to pursue and accomplish my educational goals.

Upon graduating from Santa Monica College, I transferred to the University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine) to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science and education sciences. With newfound confidence, I have also joined several programs on campus such as the UC Irvine Pre-Law Outreach Program. Furthermore, I worked for the Early Academic Outreach Program as a Student Coordinator. In this capacity, I provide academic support to underserved high school students by assisting them with college planning, enrollment for the SAT/ACT exam, and the University of California and California State University admissions process.

Reflecting on my educational journey, from community college to UC Irvine, I can appreciate how it has shaped the resilient and persistent person that I am today. I have accomplished many incredible things that have enriched my college experience and influenced my educational and professional aspirations.

Walter Ramirez is a senior at the University of California, Irvine and a summer 2018 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

The content of these posts reflects the opinions of individuals who wrote it and is not an endorsement or statement from the U.S. Department of Education.

My Dream

I dream about the day where my mom doesn’t have to wake up at four in the morning to work under the scorching heat for hours on end. I come from a farmworking family and began working in the fields at the age of twelve in Idaho. My first memory is walking into an orchard of cherry trees. Growing up, I remember telling myself that, “I don’t want to work here my whole life. And I don’t want my parents too, either.” My family is the reason why I decided to be five and a half hours away to pursue my postsecondary education. As I look back after finishing my first year in college, I am more committed to continuing to pursue my goal of obtaining my bachelor’s degree for my family.

This in part to being part of the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP). That is where I found my home away from home. I soon began to call the rest of my peers, CAMP brothers and CAMP sisters. CAMP is where I go with any questions about college.

Through CAMP, I participated in Farmworker Awareness Week. The fourth week of March is Farmworker Awareness Week on college campuses. This week is used to bring awareness to issues that farmworkers face like exploitation and harassment. This is a week I hold dear because I am passionate about farmworker justice. This week reminded me of the days I worked de-tasseling corn. Fortunately, my mom, my sister and I did not faced harassment in the fields. On our campus, we had the Bandana Project where we wrote facts about women in the fields. We displayed these at Voces Del Campo (Voices from the Fields), an event where we shared our own farmworking story. I had the privilege to read an anonymous story and heard many of my CAMP siblings share their accounts. This event made me realize the importance of sharing one’s own stories to bring awareness to certain issues. I found myself being grateful for having peers that share a similar background like mine, which is coming from a low-income farmworking family.

Volunteering for several events that week made me think about my career goals. Once I get certified to be a teacher, I want to stay in Idaho and teach in a community with a high Hispanic population. I want to be able to educate students about the issues facing our communities and share resources to assist them.

The University of Idaho’s CAMP program has been the place where I have learned about myself. Thankfully, I have found my support system, made friends, and have peers that share similar backgrounds. I have an amazing family that has been supportive since day one, and they are the reason I will continue to reach for my goals. Hopefully one day, I will be able to give my parents at least twice as much for what they have given and done for me and achieve my dream of helping my family no longer work in the fields.

Julia Santiago is a sophomore at the University of Idaho and a summer 2019 intern at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

The content of these posts reflects the opinions of individuals who wrote it and is not an endorsement or statement from the U.S. Department of Education.

Nine Ways Technology Can Boost STEM Learning

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

Across the nation, innovative programs are preparing students to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These subjects, often called STEM, can open up new pathways to success in the 21st century workforce and also means new opportunities for students and teachers alike.

Technology can play an important role in the STEM learning process. The Office of Educational Technology, in partnership with Digital Promise, reviewed research literature on how technology can enrich STEM learning. They found nine ways that technology can help students engage with these subjects which are highlighted in this newly released report from the U.S. Department of Education— Innovation Spotlights: Nine Dimensions for Supporting Powerful STEM Learning with Technology.  This report is the result of a systematic review of the current research on the impact of integrating innovative digital technology in STEM and computer science curricula and classrooms.

We hope that teachers, curriculum specialists, and other education leaders will learn how these methods can deepen students’ learning experiences. You can see these methods in action by clicking the link to each video.

1.Dynamic RepresentationsStudents learn or master STEM concepts through interacting with digital models, simulations, and dynamic representations of mathematical, scientific, and engineering systems.

2.Collaborative Reasoning. Technology tools support students’ collaborative reasoning around STEM concepts, equalizing participation among group members and helping individuals and groups improve their ideas.

3. Immediate and Individualized FeedbackDigital tools provide students practicing or learning STEM skills or concepts with immediate and individualized feedback, beyond right or wrong.

4. Science Argumentation SkillsStudents use technology that supports science argumentation skills including presenting and evaluating evidence about scientific or mathematical claims.

5. Engineering Design Processes. Students plan, revise, implement, and test problem solutions using engineering design processes and appropriate support technologies.

6. Computational ThinkingStudents use technology to formulate and analyze problems and their solutions, reason abstractly, and automate procedures through algorithmic thinking.

7. Project-based Interdisciplinary Learning. Students use digital technology tools in the context of authentic project- or challenge-based learning activities that integrate multiple STEM fields (e.g., science and mathematics).

8. Embedded Assessments. Digital assessments are embedded in STEM instruction to prompt students’ reflection on the quality of their explanations, models, or problem solutions.

9. Evidence-based Models. Students use technology to develop models based on data and evidence.

The United States is making strides in STEM literacy, innovation, and employment.

To read Innovation Spotlights: Nine Dimensions for Supporting Powerful STEM Learning with Technology and access the 10 school spotlight videos, visit

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Constructing Your Own Story

My dad has been beef cattle ranching for 13 years, and every summer, since the beginning of my freshman year of high school, I worked alongside him. Cattle farming seemed like what he was destined to do, and although the work was strenuous, my dad loved it. However, from my first summer working there, I realized it was not what I loved. I spent almost every day thinking about what else I could do, how I could utilize my intellectual knowledge that I was learning in school, and how to elevate myself and my family. Nevertheless, due to financial situations, I continued to work alongside my father for four summers. Yet, the most difficult part came when I spoke with him and told him I wanted to do something that no one in our family had done. I wanted to go to college.

Coming from a rural area, the college process was challenging. I found myself relying on myself for guidance, due to no one else being familiar with the college process. At times, my own parents doubted my ability to enter the college of my dreams. Nevertheless, I did it. I was  accepted into the college of my dreams: Dartmouth College. Upon arriving at college, a rush of guilt overtook me. I felt guilty for liking Dartmouth better than home, for wanting to stay here and explore everything about Dartmouth. I felt guilty for leaving behind my family and being excited for and enjoying the opportunities that college had to offer.

I continued to feel that guilt until I spoke with a professor. I asked my Spanish professor to chat over coffee one day. To this day, I still recall the words that lifted the guilt and pressure from me. She stated, “Juan you shouldn’t feel guilty for liking it here, and you most definitely should not feel pressure to take care of your parents.” She went on to tell me that my family was fine. They had established their life way before I came to college. Leaving for college was not disrupting our family structure. She was right. My parents were, in fact, ok. My dad, although still working hard, was doing well at his job, and my mom and siblings were ok. It wasn’t until that moment that I was able to contextualize where I was and how proud my parents were of me.

It is immensely difficult for first-generation students to realize the positive impact that we are doing for our family. The majority of us have been raised in households that discourage showing any form of individual recognition for our efforts. Therefore, it is difficult for us to disconnect ourselves from our family. Yet, during that conversation, I realized that this is my story. That my parents’ struggles, successes, and lives are not mine. I have my own, and I must focus on it. Yes, my goal is to one day aid my family financially, but I can’t do that if I continue to live under the very pressures that I put upon myself. Since I recognized this, I have felt more at ease with myself and college. Thanks to the advice of my Spanish professor, I was able to remove the feeling of being guilty for enjoying college. Furthermore, thanks to this uplift of guilt, I was able to excel and win the William S. Churchill award which recognizes one freshman male for academic achievement, leadership, community service, and who represents Dartmouth in all aspects.

I grew up working the same job as my dad. I helped my mom in household chores and in taking care of my siblings. My life was routine until I entered college. Once I entered college, I had to learn to become independent in many aspects. Additionally, I had to learn to remove feelings of guilt and pressure. It wasn’t until I did so that I started to live and excel. It’s important to recognize that although we can be grateful for our parents and for everything they have done for us, our parents’ stories are not ours. They helped mold us into the people we are today, but it’s up to us to define ourselves and tell our own story.

Juan Quinonez Zepeda is a senior at Dartmouth College and a summer 2019 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

The content of this post reflects the opinions of the individual who wrote it and is not an endorsement or statement from the U.S. Department of Education.

Finding My Destination

If the hastily written handwriting on my writing tutor job application could tell the truth, it would admit that I was applying for the position only because I needed a reason to believe that my efforts would lead to a purpose. During this time, I felt as though I was running miles toward nowhere: I was a third-year community college student who had recently switched her major from political science to English, and who was looking for a little bit more income to survive. However, I was trying to put in all my effort into my work to make up for my confusion.

I was developing new career goals, I was expanding my skillset, and overall, I was using every ounce of my hard work to be successful. Yet, I was no longer convinced that my effort was going to lead me anywhere. I was lost and frustrated, but I knew that wherever I was, I was too far to give up. Additionally, I knew that I loved literature and writing, so I was convinced that working at the writing center at the community college I attended would help me find my purpose. I eventually found that purpose among all the Latinx students I tutored.

Working as a tutor made me realize that within the Latinx community, there seems to be this group mentality that we have to prove ourselves. Whether I was tutoring a Latinx student who was in the honors program or a Latinx student who did not want to admit that he did not know what a thesis statement was, most Latinx students wanted to prove that they could be successful. They may not have realized it, but they wore their diligence on their very faces. I knew the stories of their all-nighters, of their full-time jobs and responsibilities to their families, and even their desire to go back to school for the “better life” they believed in. The one thing they lacked was a reason to believe in themselves. Seeing how determined they were, I decided that it was my responsibility to help them.

My job became more than just helping my students understand thesis statements or showing their grammatical errors. Before I knew it, I felt as though I had taken on the responsibility of helping Latinx students prove that they were capable: capable of learning, capable of reflecting their intelligence in their essays, and above all, capable of seeing positive results in their hard work.

Admittedly, I still doubted whether or not I was doing enough to help them until one random tutoring session in May 2018 that a Latinx student casually told me, “Thank you so much, I feel better about this now”, that I suddenly felt that I found more than just confirmation about my tutoring skills. That very statement made me realize where I was at that very moment. I was in a tutoring cubicle with a Latinx student who told me that I helped her believe in herself. at that moment, I felt that I could move forward with a sense of direction, that direction to me was to follow the path that would lead me to become an English professor who can use her knowledge to help Latinx students.

To this day, I continue to make the most of my teaching abilities because I want to help Latinos on the education level. I now work as a writing tutor at Orange Coast College while attending the University of California, Irvine. While I still sometimes feel my efforts are not enough or as strong as they should be, my experience helping Latinx students find their voice is enough to push me and make me believe that I can help others. I no longer run toward nowhere, but instead I have a destination.

Emily Aguilar is a senior at the University of California, Irvine and she was a summer 2019 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

The content of this post reflects the opinions of the individual who wrote it and is not an endorsement or statement from the U.S. Department of Education.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: Finding Your First-Generation Community

Growing up within the five-mile radius of Inglewood, CA, a city southwest of Los Angeles, I had never traveled outside of the west coast. When the time came to make a decision on which college to attend, I decided to attend Wellesley College, a small, historically all-women, liberal arts school near Boston, MA. With only two suitcases, a pillow and a backpack, I moved across the country, leaving behind my parents, my two sisters, my friends and Inglewood. This was mi comunidad, my community; the one that had raised me and the only one I had ever known. At the time, I was the only one amongst my friends to move to the northeast. I would be moving to Wellesley without my community.

When I arrived at Wellesley College, I felt lost and overwhelmed. When I heard the conversations of other students who seemed more prepared than I was, I felt out of place. While attending my classes that semester, I was shy to participate in class. While my peers were eager to raise their hands and contribute to the class discussion, I thought that my contributions were not good enough. After my first semester, I was almost certain that Wellesley College had made a mistake in my admittance. It seemed as if my peers were better equipped, better prepared, and overall more knowledgeable than I was. I thought to myself, how was I even considered for admission to this institution? I began to feel that one day my professors and peers would soon find out that I did not belong here. That my placement in this institution was a miscalculation by an admissions officer. I began to feel imposter’s syndrome.

During those trying times, I had to remind myself of all the hard work I had already done to be here and who I was doing this for. I began to surround myself with people who strengthened me. That year, I was grateful to meet many other first-generation students like myself through Wellesley’s First-Generation Network. Through the network, I met not only first-generation students but also first-generation professors and faculty.

Slowly, I began to see myself reflected in this institution and began to find my own community at Wellesley College. The Network gave me a community of fellow first-generation peers and faculty that believed in my intellectual and personal capability to succeed at Wellesley. My peers and I frequently got together to support one another during difficult times, while my first-generation professors worked with me during office hours to ensure I felt confident to raise my hand in class. Most importantly, my dean, who is also a part of the Network, made sure that I was pointed to the right resources on my campus, such as the Stone Center for counseling, or the Pforzheimer Learning Teaching Center for writing tutoring.

Together, my first-generation community taught me that I must not let doubt and fear limit my courage to go after new opportunities, nor should I allow it to discourage me from putting myself out there in meaningful ways. Finding my first-generation community at Wellesley College empowered me to continue persevering and persisting for my education.

For students who are in my position, we must remember this: We are here for a reason. We are worthy and we belong. We are smarter and more knowledgeable than we think we are. We must remember to surround ourselves with people who will remind us of this and remind ourselves as often as we need to. We also need to remind ourselves that we are not alone and that there is a community ready to support.

Paola Gonzalez is a senior at Wellesley College and was summer 2019 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Top 8 Reasons Why and How We Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

This was crossposted from the Smithsonian Learning Lab blog.

Every year across America communities gather together to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, which is observed September 15 to October 15. Starting in July, Smithsonian educators receive phone calls and emails inquiring about resources that will help showcase these communities and their contributions to American society.  So this year, we decided to answer those burning questions about why and how we should celebrate this month. And we decided to do it, in a top 8 listicle, because learning should be fun!

1) Why do we celebrate the Hispanic community in the United States?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 56.6 million Hispanics in the United States or 17.6 percent of the country’s population as of July 2015. Hispanics or Latinos have contributed to American life since the American Revolution, fighting in every war since then. Latinos today continue to advance communities across the country as small business owners, veterans, teachers, and public servants, among many other professions. Hispanic Heritage Month allows us to recognize their achievements and contributions to our national story.

2) What were the beginnings of Hispanic Heritage Month?

Originally, Hispanic Heritage Month was Hispanic Heritage Week, started in 1968 under President Johnson. In 1988, President Reagan enacted a public law to celebrate a 30-day Hispanic Heritage Month, starting on September 15, the independence day of five Central American countries. Within the month, other Latin American countries celebrate their independence as well.

3) Have you heard the common quote “We did not cross the border, the border crossed us”?

Because of the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars, two treaties were put in place (The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Treaty of Paris, respectively) that gave the United States territories in the Southwest and Puerto Rico, incorporating the peoples of this area into the United States. Learn more here:

4) Did you know that in America today, one in four children is Hispanic?

Sandra Cisneros writes about a young girl, Esperanza, in her classic coming-of- age story, The House on Mango Street. Used in classrooms across America, the novel is about growing up Latina in Chicago and the importance of family and traditions.

5) Did you know that food is a common language and brings us together?

Ezequiel Moreno started a Mexican bakery and restaurant out of his home in 1918, moving to La Plaza in the heart of Los Angeles in 1920. He named his bakery La Esperanza, meaning hope. Until the 1970s, their bread, coffee, Mexican dishes, and “American-style” lunches brought all kinds of people together, from Mexican immigrants, to downtown employees, to even Hollywood movie stars.

Bakeries today continue this tradition of community with El Bolillo Bakery in Houston, baking an estimated 4,400 pounds of flour into Mexican bread to help those in need after Hurricane Harvey.

6) Did you know that baseball played a role in Latino community building?

Latino community baseball leagues across the United States provided a place for people to build relationships, organize, and engage with younger community members. At the Major League level, Roberto Clemente, player for the Pittsburgh Pirates, was a Hispanic civil rights activist and a close collaborator with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Learn more here:

7) Did you know that Latin Jazz is a combination of African-American and Latin rhythms first mixed together in the 1940s?

Jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie and Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo first collaborated to create Afro-Cuban rhythms and jazz. New York’s Palladium Ballroom became the hub of Latin jazz with greats such as Tito Puente, Machito and his Afro-Cubans, and Tito Rodriguez, among others. Learn more here:

8) Did you know that contrary to popular belief, Day of the Dead is not Halloween?

Celebrated on November 1 and 2, Day of the Dead remembers family and community members that have passed. Originally from Meso-America but now celebrated in Latino communities across the United States, the commemoration combines indigenous and Catholic rituals.

SLC Day of the Dead Bilingual Curriculum-Based Resources

Your friends at the Smithsonian/ Sus amigos en el Smithsonian

This was written by Emily Key, Education Programs Manager, and Adrián Aldaba, Associate to the Director and Programs, Smithsonian Latino Center.

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.