TGR Learning Lab Student Spotlight: How Mentorship Guided me through College, Career and Life
As a first-generation Mexican American, I felt intimidated and insecure about applying to college. My mom, knowing well that she could not guide us through the U.S. education system, connected my sister and me to programs that could give us the tools to achieve our academic goals. We joined the TGR Learning Lab, then known as the Tiger Woods Learning Center, in 2008.
I didn’t think much of the programs there – I was not necessarily passionate about STEM, but I was motivated to utilize the college preparation resources despite how confusing and overwhelming it all seemed at the time. It wasn’t until my last year at Savanna High School, in 2013, when I started volunteering at the Learning Lab, that I discovered the power of mentorship. Thanks to the unwavering encouragement of two long-time employees of the Learning Lab, Denisse Jover and Lea Segura, I was able to break out of my shell and gain confidence on my way to college.
Volunteering helped me discover leadership in and out of the classroom, and Lea never hesitated to make visible the capacities I had that I couldn’t see. Denisse also believed I could do more and gave me opportunities to collaborate on the “Journey to College” bulletin boards. She connected me with other Learning Lab volunteers and encouraged me to chat with them and the staff about their path to college.
With this, something that seemed so distant and unreal to me slowly became tangible and achievable. Denisse and Lea served as mentors to me when I needed it most. They have been some of the most impactful people in my life. Because of their genuine interest and personal investment in my journey, I strongly believe that my biggest accomplishments – getting into and graduating from college and earning my Fulbright grant – have been a community effort.
My journey towards college graduation was a major community effort and one of the most challenging. I kicked off my first semester at the University of California, Berkeley feeling nervous and doubtful of my ability to succeed in a space that wasn’t made for me. Coming in as a spring admit, I was struck even more by the overwhelming sense of loneliness that would plague my daily life.
While other freshmen continued strengthening their friendship circles, I was stuck trying to adapt to a new city, a new school and a new lifestyle all at once. Too many times that semester I wanted to drop everything that I had worked for and go home, but my roommate and her friends, with our similar backgrounds, motivated me to push through.
Sophomore year was almost like my first semester but with an added layer of academic turmoil from having to decide on a major. In the midst of darkness, I learned to use the resources available at UC Berkeley, from advising and counseling to basic needs support, just like I had done at the Learning Lab when on my path towards college admission.
Instead of focusing on wanting to transfer out of Berkeley in order to be closer to home, I visited career and major advisors who helped me decide on a major and get a work-study job. I looked to mental health counselors, frozen yogurt and ice cream whenever I found myself on the brink of crisis, and most importantly, I learned to let myself lean on one of the most incredible advisors I have ever had.
Avisha Chugani’s office became one of the safest spaces for me whenever it felt like my world was falling apart. I knew to trust that Avisha’s words, warm smile and a handy box of tissues would calm the storm of confusion and pain inside me. She helped me find the strength to make class schedules that would allow me to breath, manage my stress before threatening midterm and finals seasons and take on every transformative opportunity I could handle.
It was through these opportunities that I met inspirational people who helped me get to graduation. One of my proudest college memories, other than the moment I walked across the stage in the hands of my parents at graduation, was when I realized that I not only worked hard to get into college but also deserved to be there.
A year after graduation, for the 2018-19 school year, I had the extraordinary opportunity of serving as a Fulbright-Garcia Robles English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Mexico. I was placed in Zacapoaxtla, a small town in the major mountain range of the state of Puebla in central Mexico.
Now, I am a proud Fulbright-Garcia Robles ETA Mentor based in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. The Fulbright Commission in Mexico, also known as COMEXUS, has grown immensely in these past few years, most notably in the way it supports ETAs. Four years ago, they launched the mentorship program for which then-current ETAs were invited to apply for a second year of Fulbright in order to support incoming Fulbrighters with their transition to life in Mexico.
Now a month into my role as a mentor, I am beyond grateful for everyone who supported me along my journey, at whichever moment it may have been. Without the support of my family throughout my school years, I could not be here reflecting on everything we have achieved as a team. Without Denisse, Lea and the TGR Learning Lab support system, I could not have gained the extra grain of courage to submit college applications and ultimately decide on UC Berkeley.
Without Avisha, the entire EOP office, or any of the inspirational professors, friends and peers that crossed my path during college, I could not have made it across the graduation stage. Without my already mentioned community helping me revise my essays, writing my recommendation letters and easing my anxiety before every major step, I could not have made it to Mexico through the Fulbright program.
I just hope to continue contributing to my low-income, first-generation, Latinx community by helping build stronger, more accessible education or mental health spaces. This is for me, para mi gente, para mi familia y para todos los que me ayudaron a abrir el camino.
Redefining what it means to be a champion.