Name: Kimberly Torres
Host Site: California State University, Long Beach BUILD
Alma Mater: California State University, Fullerton
Major: Political Science
Background: Since my freshman year of high school, I had a clear understanding of what I wanted to do in life. Fast forward to the junior year of my undergraduate career, I had mixed feelings about my major and career choice. I dedicated my undergraduate career to studying political science in order to learn the law and the inner workings of the government while pursuing a law degree.
I attended Santiago Canyon College to complete my general education. I was struggling to get into the rhythm of going to class, doing the readings and assignments for class, and studying for hours to understand the material for the midterms and final exams. When I joined the cross country and track and field teams I was able to find my groove and maintain a decent GPA. I was team captain of the track and field team both years. I was part of the Student Leadership Institute, where I participated in leadership building workshops in conjunction with California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). I graduated with honors from Santiago and continued my undergraduate career at CSUF.
As a transfer student to CSUF, I felt like I had so much I wanted to do but not enough time before graduation. I majored in Political Science with an emphasis in Comparative Politics. I also worked part time throughout school, while maintaining a full time status. I am a member of the Delta Epsilon Iota Honor Society, which focused on community service and career path opportunities. The highlight of my time at CSUF was my internship with the Department of Interior at the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) in Washington, D.C. This internship was the beginning of my AmeriCorps VISTA experience. One of my duties with OSMRE was database management for the AmeriCorps VISTA program within the entire department. As interns, we tagged along to site visits where I learned about the value of the work and how impactful their work in the community is. With the help of my internship director, Dr. Allen T. Comp, I was able to apply and get accepted into the CSU STEM VISTA program.
Being that I started having second thoughts about going to law school, I thought VISTA was a great program to build my leadership, interpersonal, and office skills, as well as becoming more involved in my community. Even though this was not in my original plan, I think this has brought a new perspective to what I want to do with my law degree. I have realized I do have a passion for helping people. I still aspire to become a lawyer in the field of immigration, and plan on using my law degree to possibly work in the non-profit sector or a federal agency where I can continue to serve my community.
Involvement with Social Justice: Having grown up in Santa Ana, where 78% of the population is Latin@, I was vaguely aware of the issues facing this minority group, which I am also a part of. Throughout the city, you notice small immigration firms as well as the county court house and district court house. Not really aware of the issues that many minorities face against justice I decided to take an immigration course. By taking this immigration course, I became aware of the dangers that undocumented immigrants face when crossing the border. Most of these individuals are coming to the United States to seek a better future than what they have back home, and seldom do they find the success that they are looking for in the U.S. They risk their lives by crossing the border. Learning about the struggles that these people face when coming to the U.S., I reflected on my family’s immigration story, and I learned it did not differ significantly from the stories I read in my class. Knowing that my family grappled like many other families with similar immigration stories struck a nerve in me. Henceforth, I volunteered with Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD) which engages the community in civic participation. I volunteer every couple months by helping individuals apply for citizenship and review for the citizenship exam.
Overcoming a Challenge: Working as a VISTA, I have learned a lot about my talents, wants, and what I need to work on. The project I was assigned cannot get done without my taking the initiative to get it done. My goal is to get community members to provide their research opportunities to the undergraduates in the CSULB BUILD program and throughout the university. Many of these community members do not consider their work to be research related or do not want to commit to taking on undergraduate students. It became more difficult when I asked them to upload their research opportunities to CSULB CareerLINK. In an effort to get more organizations to participate, my supervisor and I have expanded the search of opportunities to include various universities, non-profits, and other organizations within Southern California instead of just Long Beach. With this adjustment, I think my VISTA project will be more impactful to the university and the BUILD program.
Area for Growth: Looking back at my experience as an undergraduate student, I do not believe I was as accomplished in many things both academically and socially as I would’ve liked. When I joined the CSU STEM VISTA program, I was excited to be a part of something that would help me develop skills that I was not able to focus on as an undergraduate. One of those being my leadership skills. Even though I did have a couple of leadership positions throughout my education, I feel that being a leader encompasses many qualities that need to be worked on continuously, especially when you are finding a career. To me a leader is someone who is responsible in many aspects like time management, is a great listener, is a follower when need be, is willing to take on projects or events that might not be up their alley, and is an example to others in their community. I am very timid and want to be able to take the initiative to be a leader in my community in the future. Joining AmeriCorps was step one, and throughout this experience at CSULB, I have taken the initiative in various projects alongside my main project. It did take time though. At first I was hesitant to ask for more work and to be a part of other projects within BUILD. Slowly I have been coming out of my little shell and have now taken on many projects.