As graduation approaches, California State University, Northridge graduate student Vanesa Morales is preparing to hit another milestone in her young career.
Morales will be able to boast two CSUN degrees. In spring of 2013 she received her bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing and a minor in Spanish. This semester, she will receive her master’s degree in educational leadership and policy studies with an emphasis in education.
During her academic years, Morales has received a great deal of help and support from faculty and staff members, who helped guide her throughout her academic journey. She received aid through the Educational Opportunity Programs (EOP), which inspired her to give back and volunteer with their student outreach and recruitment program as an undergraduate.
“I would go to high schools and go through the EOP process, and help [high school seniors] see what documents they needed to submit and encourage them to attend college,” Morales said. “I felt like I needed to give back to my community, and do that work that we need so much of.”
Morales also become an academic mentor for EOP, which expanded her opportunities to help others.
“Becoming a mentor, she was just a natural and really had a passion for giving back to students,” said Sean James, who was the EOP coordinator at the time. “She was a very exceptional mentor for us — she related to diverse populations, she related to everybody.”
EOP made such an impact on Morales that after earning her bachelor’s degree, she decided to return to campus to pursue her master’s degree in educational leadership and policy studies, with an emphasis in education.
“EOP has been so amazing, from the day that I went through the program myself to working for the program,” Morales said. “I want to be able to represent minorities and show people that programs like EOP do work.”
Morales has transitioned from volunteering with EOP to working for TRIO,
a federally funded college opportunity program that supports first-generation, low-income students with resources to help them succeed in college. TRIO is a composite of three original programs established by the U.S Department of Education to increase the presence of first-generation students from low-income communities in higher education.
“She is able to provide them academic advice and guidance to ensure [students] reach their academic goals,” said Frank Muñiz, EOP/TRIO director. “Students are able to relate to her because she is a first-generation student, and she has shared her personal experiences with them.”
The road to success for Morales has not always been so sweet. She had to overcome a language barrier and adjust to a new culture.
“I moved from Bolivia to here [California] when I was 13 years old — I’m an immigrant,” Morales said. “High school was hard, not knowing the language and having to learn on the way. It was intense.”
Her hard work continues to pay off. For the 2015-16 academic year, Morales received CSUN’s First Generation Alumni Scholarship sponsored by CSUN’s Alumni Association and donors.
“This scholarship not only helped me financially, but it also encouraged me to keep moving forward with my academic and professional goals,” Morales said. “I look forward to being able to donate to scholarship funds in the near future, because I know how beneficial these scholarships are to our students.”
After graduation, Morales said she plans to take a year off to explore possible doctorate programs. With her departure, CSUN will say goodbye to an extraordinary Matador who has made a difference, one student at a time.
“I want to keep the doors of education open for minority students, especially for first-generation students that need so much help,” she said.