“Metas” is the Spanish word for “goals.” It is also the name of a program at Malcolm X that’s helping students like Gabriela Leon reach their highest potential.

Gabriela began taking classes at Malcolm X College in the fall of 2021. For the University Village resident, the college was close to home, making it convenient as she enrolled in courses as a non-traditional student. She already had her certificate for dental assisting, but after some challenging times and discrimination at her job, she knew it wasn’t a place she wanted to stay forever.

“I knew I deserved better,” Gabriela said. “That’s why I went back to school.”

Gabriela is now working toward her Associate in Science in computer science. Her role as a dental assistant made her realize technology is an important tool that’s necessary to accurately diagnose a patient. Once she finishes her program at Malcolm X, she wants to transfer to UIC and earn her bachelor’s in computer science with a software engineer concentration. METAS for HSI is helping her get there.

METAS for HSI, or METAS for short, literally translates to “goals for a Hispanic Serving Institution.” It is a program at Malcolm X for Latinx students who are obtaining their Associate in Science and are interested in a career in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The program trains Latinx students to enter these roles to diversify the field.

Gabriela is heavily involved in METAS. As the program’s ambassador, she hosts study groups for students and meets with the program’s advisors often.

“I felt like I had to give back because they [METAS] were giving me so much,” Gabriela shared. “I wanted to meet all of the METAS students who had the goals and passions that I did.”

METAS has provided Gabriela with the opportunity to participate in STEM programs at UIC, such as Women in Engineering 2.0 and Girls Who Code, and represent Malcolm X and the METAS program at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities’ (HACU) conference, which she says has been one of her favorite experiences.

“There was this one moment when the speaker mentioned, ‘Raise your hand if you’re a first-generation student.’ About 90 percent of people raised their hands. Being in the Hispanic community, I know that they’ve had the same struggles as my family,” Gabriela said.

As Gabriela thinks about her future, she dreams of attending UIC. She lives near the UIC Engineering building, and while passing, she gets excited and hopeful that one day she will study there. Ultimately, Gabriela wants to work at a company where she can have growth opportunities, learn, and be able to contribute.

In Gabriela’s wildest dreams, she never imagined a STEM career for herself. But she’s so excited to succeed and be a role model for others.

“My little brothers recently told me that I’m their role model and they’re happy to look up to me,” she said. “One of them said that he wants to be an aerospace engineer. I want to do this for women. I want to do this for my little brothers.”

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