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

¡Saludos!
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.

Data Tools for College Professors and Students

This was crossposted from the National Center on Education Statistics blog

Ever wonder what parts of the country produce the most English majors? Want to know which school districts have the most guidance counselors? The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has all the tools you need to dig into these and lots of other data!

Whether you’re a student embarking on a research project or a college professor looking for a large data set to use for an assignment, NCES has you covered. Below, check out the tools you can use to conduct searches, download datasets, and generate your own statistical tables and analyses.

Conduct Publication Searches

Two search tools help researchers identify potential data sources for their study and explore prior research conducted with NCES data. The Publications & Products Search Tool can be used to search for NCES publications and data products. The Bibliography Search Tool, which is updated continually, allows users to search for individual citations from journal articles that have been published using data from most surveys conducted by NCES.

Key reference publications include the Digest of Education Statistics, which is a comprehensive library of statistical tabulations, and The Condition of Education, which highlights up-to-date trends in education through statistical indicators.

Learn with Instructional Modules

The Distance Learning Dataset Training System (DLDT) is an interactive online tool that allows users to learn about NCES data across the education spectrum. DLDT’s computer-based training introduces users to many NCES datasets, explains their designs, and offers technical considerations to facilitate successful analyses. Please see the NCES blog Learning to Use the Data: Online Dataset Training Modules for more details about the DLDT tool.



Download and Access Raw Data Files

Users have several options for conducting statistical analyses and producing data tables. Many NCES surveys release public-use raw data files that professors and students can download and analyze using statistical software packages like SAS, STATA, and SPSS. Some data files and syntax files can also be downloaded using NCES data tools:

  • Education Data Analysis Tool (EDAT) and the Online Codebook allow users to download several survey datasets in various statistical software formats. Users can subset a dataset by selecting a survey, a population, and variables relevant to their analysis.
  • Many data files can be accessed directly from the Surveys & Programs page by clicking on the specific survey and then clicking on the “Data Products” link on the survey website.

Generate Analyses and Tables

NCES provides several online analysis tools that do not require a statistical software package:

  • DataLab is a tool for making tables and regressions that features more than 30 federal education datasets. It includes three powerful analytic tools:
    • QuickStats—for creating simple tables and charts.
    • PowerStats—for creating complex tables and logistic and linear regressions.
    • TrendStats—for creating complex tables spanning multiple data collection years. This tool also contains the Tables Library, which houses more than 5,000 published analysis tables by topic, publication, and source.


  • National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Data Explorer can be used to generate tables, charts, and maps of detailed results from national and state assessments. Users can identify the subject area, grade level, and years of interest and then select variables from the student, teacher, and school questionnaires for analysis.
  • International Data Explorer (IDE) is an interactive tool with data from international assessments and surveys, such as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The IDE can be used to explore student and adult performance on assessments, create a variety of data visualizations, and run statistical tests and regression analyses.
  • Elementary/Secondary Information System (ElSi) allows users to quickly view public and private school data and create custom tables and charts using data from the Common Core of Data (CCD) and Private School Universe Survey (PSS).
  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Use the Data provides researcher-focused access to IPEDS data and tools that contain comprehensive data on postsecondary institutions. Users can view video tutorials or use data through one of the many functions within the portal, including the following:
    • Data Trends—Provides trends over time for high-interest topics, including enrollment, graduation rates, and financial aid.
    • Look Up an Institution—Allows for quick access to an institution’s comprehensive profile. Shows data similar to College Navigator but contains additional IPEDS metrics.
    • Statistical Tables—Equips power users to quickly get data and statistics for specific measures, such as average graduation rates by state.

Back to School by the Numbers: 2019–20 School Year

This was crossposted from the National Center for Education Statistics blog

Across the country, hallways and classrooms are full of activity as students return for the 2019–20 school year. Each year, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) compiles back-to-school facts and figures that give a snapshot of our schools and colleges for the coming year. You can see the full report on the NCES website, but here are a few “by-the-numbers” highlights. You can also click on the hyperlinks throughout the blog to see additional data on these topics.

The staff of NCES and of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) hopes our nation’s students, teachers, administrators, school staffs, and families have an outstanding school year!

56.6 million

The number of students expected to attend public and private elementary and secondary schools this year—slightly more than in the 2018–19­ school year (56.5 million).

Overall, 50.8 million students are expected to attend public schools this year. The racial and ethnic profile of public school students includes 23.7 million White students, 13.9 million Hispanic students, 7.7 million Black students, 2.7 million Asian students, 2.1 million students of Two or more races, 0.5 million American Indian/Alaska Native students, and 0.2 million Pacific Islander students.

About 5.8 million students are expected to attend private schools this year.

$13,440

The projected per student expenditure in public elementary and secondary schools in 2019–20. Total expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools are projected to be $680 billion for the 2019–20 school year.

3.7 million

The number of teachers in fall 2019. There will be 3.2 million teachers in public schools and 0.5 million teachers in private schools.

3.7 million

The number of students expected to graduate from high school this school year, including 3.3 million from public schools and nearly 0.4 million from private schools.

19.9 million

The number of students expected to attend American colleges and universities this fall—lower than the peak of 21.0 million in 2010. About 13.9 million students will attend four-year institutions and 6.0 million will attend two-year institutions.

56.7%

The projected percentage of female postsecondary students in fall 2019, for a total of 11.3 million female students, compared with 8.6 million male students.

By Sidney Wilkinson-Flicker

Stay On Track This Summer: 4 Tips for Incoming College Freshman

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

4 Ways to Stay Productive During Summer Break

A recent post, covers the concern of “summer melt,” where up to one-third of the students who graduate high school with plans to go to college never make it to a college campus. The post discussed how educators  can help keep someone on track—but there’s also plenty that a student can do to make sure their college plans don’t get derailed during a summer break.

Open every piece of snail mail you get from the college, and read all of it!  

Mail Time!

You’re probably used to getting lots of mail from all kinds of colleges, but once you’ve decided on where you want to enroll, anything and everything that school sends you needs to be read. For instance, you could be so excited after opening an admission letter that you completely miss important information on another page, such as scholarship opportunities offered by the school.

Read it all.


Check your email.  

Email may be almost as old school as snail mail, but it’s still how many colleges communicate with students—especially if they need something in a hurry.  The only way to find out what they need is to check your email at least three times a week in the summer. Also, make sure to check your junk or spam folder; some colleges send emails to thousands of students, and your email account may think it’s spam.  It isn’t.


Keep track of your to-dos with a checklist.  

Most colleges send you a checklist with everything you’ll need to do over the summer, and when you need to do it.  This checklist may come via snail mail, a link in an email, or as a text message.  Print it out and put it on your fridge at home; that way, your parents can help you keep track of what to do as well.  If your college doesn’t give a checklist, there are others out there, such as this one from College Board or from one of our posts.


Confused? Contact Your School. 

If there’s any point over the summer you’re not sure what you should be doing, contact your school. Even if you aren’t crazy about talking to someone on the phone, remember that your college gets a fresh batch of new students all the time and are used to answering all types of questions.

Once a college admits you, they will help you register, attend and graduate. There is almost nothing they haven’t been asked before, so don’t feel like you’re the only one asking a certain question. In fact, colleges have Student Services offices because so many students have so many questions. If you don’t know how to contact them, call the admissions office, and they’ll tell you how.

Talk to your family, friends and counselors who are there to help, even in the summer. There’s a ton of people at your college—your new home—who want to help you too, even though they haven’t met you. All you have to do is ask.

You can make this happen!

My Dedication

With about 33,000 residents, Dalton, Georgia’s claim to fame is carpet. The workforce for this industry is primarily supplied by recent immigrant Latino workers. As a result, almost 50% of the city is Hispanic. In my high school, nearly 70% identify as Hispanic. However, when considering college readiness, this wasn’t reflected. As a student, I noticed which of my peers were ultimately going—or not—to college. This firsthand exposure to educational inequities set off my lifelong passion to advance the college access, retention, and persistence of historically underrepresented students, and in turn, informed by decision to pursue a masters of higher education.

When I applied to be a Gates Millennium Scholar as a high school senior, a recurring theme in my essays was that I was seeking to go to college to help others go to college, particularly students of underserved backgrounds. In one my Gates essays, there was one particular paragraph that reaffirmed my decision to pursue graduate study and a career in higher education:

I would want to do my part in helping students, with special emphasis on minorities, realize that going to college is possible…I want to help get rid of the misconception amongst students, those minorities and rising first-generation college students, that they can’t go to college because of cost or because a higher education is not for them. I would work on policies to better the resource distribution to students in the area regarding graduating, college, and scholarships.

Early on, my interests were in higher education equity. As a first-generation college, low-income, child of immigrants, and Latina student, I faced many challenges and obstacles when navigating the college-going process. I visited college campuses on my own. I filled out the FAFSA form on my own. I paid the housing deposit on my own. When your parents have an elementary education, don’t speak English, and don’t understand the American educational system, you’re left to do all this alone. While I am resourceful and eventually successfully navigated this process, it was hard, confusing, and lonely.

However, the challenges faced by students like me don’t just end with matriculation. Remaining on a college campus and persisting through graduation is a different story. Despite my academic successes, I still battled with the stereotype threat and imposter syndrome that many students of color experience while at predominantly white institutions (PWI). Given that the faculty, staff, and students didn’t look like me, it was easy to feel like I didn’t belong or shouldn’t be at my school. The feelings of alienation, inadequacy, and inferiority quickly set in. The daily microaggressions of other students and college personnel slowly perpetuate an unwelcoming environment for students of diverse backgrounds. During these times, I knew that to make this easier for students like myself in the future, there needed to be students of underrepresented backgrounds staying, graduating, and then ultimately working on college campuses. Like many other areas of American society, more representation of various demographic backgrounds is needed in higher education at the institutional, state, and federal levels. Only then can higher education professionals and those creating policies make informed decisions and affect changes against systems and policies that were historically not made for students like me.

By growing as a scholar through my master’s program, I hope to leverage my academic and professional experiences as a stepping stone to a life-long career in education equity at the postsecondary level. Ultimately, after my masters, I seek to pursue a doctorate degree related to educational leadership and policy. In the long run, I see myself working in the public sector and influencing policies that affect systems for the advancement of college access and practices that promote an increase in people of color with degrees. At the end of the day, per one of my Gates Millennium Scholarship essays:

Whether by getting a political office…to affect policies or…on a board of education, all my goals, in everything I do, I will work to help students go to college. That is what I want to dedicate my life to.

Monica Maldonado is a graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park. She was a spring 2019 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Being the Help in my Community

Growing up on the south side of Chicago wasn’t easy. I grew up watching as many of my community members fell into the wrong steps early on in life. Some students within my community weren’t the easiest to deal with, often written off as “bad kids.” I witnessed this from an early age and asked myself, “Why isn’t anyone helping them?”

When I started high school, I had to travel about 20 minutes south of where I lived because I wasn’t accepted into the high school of my choice. Luckily, the school I attended was equipped with some of the most dedicated, hard-working instructors I ever met. My instructors dedicated time before and after school to aid students who needed extra help. I was assured that if I needed to meet with my instructors, I would never be turned away. It was common for staff members to lead extra-curricular activities. They all knew their students and expressed genuine interest in their students’ success and discipline. They exemplified patience and empathy for students whose circumstances were far beyond what anyone could imagine. Their level of care for their students’ education transformed me as an individual and as a student.

These life-changing experiences motivated me to serve communities like mine. Being a first-generation college student from a low-income community can be terrifying. It’s not uncommon for us to feel alone at times because of the lack of support within our communities and even from our households. Academically, it can feel like we’re barely catching up to students who had the privilege of a head start. This has informed where I work and how I serve.

Throughout college I’ve been employed through City Colleges of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools. I’ve been able to work with students like me, oftentimes first-generation and low-income. One of the most positive experiences within education has been working with GEAR UP, a grant-based program that increases the academic performance and preparation of students in secondary and post-secondary education. Our mission is to help students all over Chicago succeed through high school and to aid them through the college process, along with mentoring them through their first year of college. As a team, we increase our community’s awareness of post-secondary education by aiding students through the financial aid process, researching scholarships opportunities, connecting students with organizations on campus, and hosting academic workshops. It has been heartwarming to support my city’s youth through their journey to college.

Because of the great support and experiences I had in high school, I want to educate, reform, and advocate for communities like mine–communities that are often overlooked and misunderstood. We are marginalized from other communities due to our crime rates and delinquency. This creates a cycle of hurt, violence, and indifference within our communities. Therefore, as a future educator, it is my goal to give a voice to communities who oftentimes don’t. I will take the time to get to know my students and foster parent involvement. In order to have a community flourish, students and families must feel supported. I have seen my own high school community thrive, and I will fight to do the same within the Chicago Public Schools system.

Lourdes Bustos is a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a 2018-2019 virtual intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.