Breaking Barriers One Student at a Time

Year in School: Senior
Major: Nursing
Hometown: Waukegan, IL

Before I started my first semester at NIU, I attended a 2-day orientation. I met so many students and NIU faculty. One of the guest speakers caught my attention. She talked about the minority population, especially Latinos, and was emphasizing the importance of continuing education beyond a Bachelor’s. She gave us statistics on the retention rate of Latino students who attend and graduate from high school, 2-year college, 4-year university, and what type of degree they receive (bachelor’s, master’s, PhD). Her story inspired me and motivated me to break barriers as a Latino student. After her speech, I approached her and introduced myself. I found out her name was Dr. Emily Prieto and she was the Director of Latino Resource Center (LRC) at NIU. She is currently not in NIU anymore, but we still try to keep in touch. She has impacted my life at NIU as a student. She introduced me to many opportunities and pushed me to do more and better things as an undergrad that could potentially help me for grad school.

Because of her I was in the Research Rookies program which then lead me to join the Undergraduate Research Assistantships Program. With research as part of my background, I was able to present my research studies in conferences and join the SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) team, another organization that Dr. Prieto told me about. I also got involved in the Honors program, which is awesome. There are many more things that Dr. Prieto has done for me and I can’t thank her enough. I truly miss her!

I wanted to help prospective students the way I was helped by my mentors. It can be hard when you’re a first-generation student and you have to figure out everything on your own because no one that you know has been in the same shoes as you. I did not want other students to struggle or feel like they are alone. So I joined a program from the LRC called M.A.S. Mentoring program. I was paired up with a freshman student who had a health-related major. The way I helped my mentee was by asking her what were her interests, goals and future career goals. She expressed to me that she wanted to get more involved on campus. I gave her a list of health-related organizations that were on campus and other programs that she might be interested in. If she ever needed a friend to talk to or any questions about relating to academics I was here for her. She also became one of my good friends at NIU–it’s been 4 years now and we still keep in contact. You do make life-long friends and build relationships with people while attending college. It is a great way to help each other and become better people.

I am hoping to build that relationship with my mentor from the Student-Alumni program. I am not sure if my mentor is a nurse or what she does for a living, but I hope she could guide me or provide any advice about anything that I may need. I can’t wait to meet her and have another role-model in my life. I am excited to see where we go on this journey.

Isabel Contreras

Written by Isabel Contreras

I chose to come to NIU because I heard a lot of good things about the nursing program. NIU exceeded and met my expectations of a university. I never felt alone even though I was far away from my actual home. The staff and faculty at NIU are so helpful and comforting in so many ways that I felt accepted into the NIU family. You meet such great people while attending this university and the best part is that they help you succeed. NIU has so many resources available that help you do well in your classes. I wanted to become a Northern Light Ambassador because I want to be a role model for other students, especially first-generation students, pre-nursing, and nursing students. I want to show them that NIU is the university to be an undergraduate. I want to represent the Latino community and show other students that is it possible to graduate college and accomplish your goals. In my first year at NIU, I did not have family or friends nearby. I did not have anyone to help me point those amazing resources for me or show me the path I should be on. Although, you may feel alone or helpless, there are people who are in the same shoes as you and as an NIU family we are here to help each other.

Website: http://www.niu.edu/engagedlearning/northern_light/14-15_nla_participants/isabel_contreras.shtml