When I first began my undergraduate career at Cornell College in Iowa, graduate school seemed a very lofty goal and I did not feel capable. I was very fortunate to have parents who valued education as much as I do. However, I was always pushed to go into the medical or law fields because that would get me the success my parents were hoping their children would achieve by moving to the United States. However, in the small town of Mount Vernon, Iowa, Cornell allowed my interests to really shine bright enough for me to recognize I was not headed toward the medical field as I previously thought.
I have always been involved in programs and volunteer opportunities where the focus was helping people. Since I was a freshman in high school, I knew I wanted to help people. As I took classes and got more and more involved during my first year at Cornell I started realizing that I had to tell my parents that I was changing my future plans, and that scared me. I knew I wanted to major in Psychology because it encompassed so many of my passions and the more classes I took, the more confidence I felt in my decision. I knew that a psychology major accompanied with my goals and I wanted to attend graduate school, but I had absolutely no idea how graduate school worked. My parents did not talk about this kind of education to me and did not know enough to completely support my transition. In addition, it was not openly discussed or supported in my high school. Being a first-generation student made it difficult for me to believe I could make it to this magical place I knew I needed to be, in order to achieve my goals: graduate school.
So here I was, a first-generation minority student in my Sophomore year at a predominately white institution. However, I did not let my membership to certain groups prevent me from seeking out opportunities and trying to understand how I could get to the next level, it just made it a bit more difficult and frustrating. One day, I happened to open and completely read an email, where at the end, it mentioned an undergraduate research experience. At this point, I knew I wanted to go to graduate school but in my mind, graduate school seemed far beyond my reach. I decide to apply anyway and got accepted into the Graduate Exploration Fellowship (GSEF) which connected me with the SROP program at Michigan State University and the Community-AID Lab. It was a whole year until I found out I would be doing research at Michigan State University. I did a lot of learning in that year making sure I learned more about this magical place, graduate school. GSEF provided me with the opportunity to attend a conference the right before Junior year, which pushed me to learn more. The conference allowed me to connect with other minority students that hoped to attend graduate school and were experiencing similar emotions of isolation. I did not feel as alone anymore.
Fast forward to summer 2017, my research experience at Michigan State with the Community-AID Lab. The Community-AID Lab has taught me more than I could have imagined. I feel very much part of the team, as our goal is to promote success among diverse youth and communities and community engagement, no matter race, gender or social class. The Lab has pushed me as an activist and as a future scholar. The work between the SROP and Community-AID lab was tough to balance with life in general at times, but at the end of the day I find myself really enjoying the work I do and feel capable. I find myself capable. This summer has provided me with the experience to believe in myself and not think of graduate school as an unreachable goal.
As the summer comes to an end, I know I will be applying for psychology graduate programs this year instead of finding excuses to not apply. I am not as scared anymore because I had the opportunity to work in the lab and see what kind of difference I can make in people’s lives, specifically youth. In addition, I had the chance to work alongside an amazing team and see so many people of color working in higher education, my mentor included, Dr. Ignacio Acevedo-Polakovich. I know I am capable and I have experience with the Community-AID and SROP to thank for that. The Latino pathway to a Ph. D may seem difficult, but it is not impossible. I understand that by simply reading this blog post, the path does not become easier but I encourage those who seek to go into graduate programs to not be afraid because of your membership to a certain group and to take the risk of applying that “prestigious” or “out of reach” program/opportunity.