If you can see it, you can be it.

A program at Malcolm X College helped Isabel Cervantes “see” herself in places she had never thought about before and is inspiring her to dream bigger.

Isabel is pursuing her Associate in Science degree. She’s also a member of Advancing Opportunities for Women in STEM (AOWS), a program funded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) at Malcolm X. AOWS works to increase the number of women of color in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields by providing academic assistance and hands-on experience in their field of interest. It also helps them transfer to four-year universities.

Through the program, students are able to meet and network with industry professionals who look like them. These professionals talk to the students about their life, their career, and how they made it to the STEM field.

One of the speakers who had a huge impact on Isabel was Jose. He has a career in STEM and is from the Mexican state of Jalisco, the same place Isabel’s parents are from.

“I found it very inspirational,” she said. “As a first-generation student, I don’t really have those types of examples or role models.”

AOWS is the reason Isabel decided to attend Malcolm X College. She understands women, especially women of color, are underrepresented in STEM careers, and she wants to increase the number of people who look like her in her field. She also enjoys that AOWS provides her with the opportunity to interact with a community of women who are striving toward the same thing.

Isabel plans to finish her courses at Malcolm X in the spring of 2023. Then, she wants to transfer to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to major in Environmental Engineering—a move that Jose also helped inspire.

“I didn’t think it was reasonable or possible for me to leave the state or even get out of Chicago,” she shared. “AOWS has made the possibilities real for me.”

Eventually, Isabel dreams of working in water management to make water accessible to people who don’t have clean water as a resource. She says the two things she’ll miss most when she leaves Malcolm X are the helpful, caring instructors and the community of women she’s been surrounded by.

“I’m proud to be a CCC student and have that experience. That’s something I’ll say proudly and carry with me.”

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