My academic path has been unique, and I’m excited to see where it takes me next. In high school, I took a long bus ride from my Southeast Side neighborhood to Jones College Prep in the Loop each day. I tried my best to be involved in the Association of Latin American students and student government, though my long commute made that difficult.

I went to college for a year in another state before realizing that I needed a more inclusive and collaborative learning environment. I found that at Harold Washington College, just a few blocks from where I’d attended high school. I took the same bus to classes each day but got off at a new stop. It might as well have been a new world.

Harold Washington was such an important part of my college journey. I could pick and choose my schedule, and I got the chance to do more on campus, like joining the college’s Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS). I became the secretary for OLAS, where I was able to gain leadership skills and collaborate with other Latinx students. I realized that clubs like it are important to my sense of self and community.

At Harold Washington, I really enjoyed being able to take a lot of introductory courses as I focused on getting my general education requirements done. I chose psychology as my major and decided I needed a transfer plan.

I enrolled in a transfer leadership class with Ellen Goldberg, the director of Harold Washington College’s Transfer Center and one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. I devoted a lot of my time to that course, and it really helped me navigate the transfer application process, which felt a bit daunting. I was so happy when I found out that I’d gotten into my first-choice transfer school: Northwestern University. I graduated from Harold Washington in the fall of 2019 and began at Northwestern in 2020.

At Harold Washington, I was a Star Scholar, which meant I received free tuition and a stipend for books each semester. Being a Star Scholar helped me earn additional scholarships at Northwestern, where I’m paying almost nothing thanks to the $50,000 I receive each year, combined with merit-based awards from the university.

The scholarships allow me to focus more on school. Struggling with money or trying to find a job to pay for tuition is a huge mental burden. I’m so glad I haven’t had to worry about whether I could pay for the next semester or quarter. I don’t have to balance school and work and can focus more on my grades and my social life at Northwestern. I joined Alianza here, the Latinx student alliance, and it’s something that I continue to find meaning from.

I am a dual major in Psychology and Latinx Studies, and I’m pursuing a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. Now in my senior year, I extended my time at Northwestern to a third year to do a thesis project, and the scholarships I was awarded through Star extended with me. My project will focus on identity research through interviews with three generations of women in my family. I’ll look at similarities and differences in their beliefs, ideas, and perspectives growing up in Mexico and right here in Chicago.

After I graduate next spring, I hope to take a gap year to do post-baccalaureate work at a lab to gain more research experience. I’m preparing to take my GRE—the exam you need to complete to apply for grad school—and hope to get into a master’s degree program and, later, a PhD program in clinical psychology. It would be a dream to find a fully-funded program that will prepare me for a career as a clinical researcher or a therapist.

I want City Colleges students to know that I felt prepared for “the deep end” at Northwestern—Harold Washington helped me get ready for that level of intensity! I enjoy coming back to Harold Washington to talk about my experience at Northwestern for students who hope to attend one day, and my cousins come to me a lot for advice about college and applications. I think it’s important to talk about how it feels to go through the college and transfer experience as a first-generation student. It’s a big change that can be both exciting and a little bit scary.

I’ve had to figure a lot out on my own, but I’ve also learned the importance of asking for help. Harold Washington College helped me realize that support is all around you—you just have to seek it out.

~Written by Eivan Herrera-Valdez, Harold Washington College alum, Class of 2021

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