Name: Miranda Lopez
Host Site: Fresno State University
Alma Mater: California State University Long Beach
Background: As my dad always says “Life goes by way too fast, I remember when I was your age and my dad was my age.” Being an undergraduate seemed to take so long, but now looking back, it went by faster than I could have imagined. I spent 3 years of undergrad at my local community college, College of the Sequoias (COS) and 2 years at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB). During my years at COS fate would take its course in an English class I was trying to add. In order to be in this English class, I had to be a part of a program called “Puente” (Spanish for “bridge”). The program was created to increase the number of educationally under-served students who transfer to four-year colleges and universities in hopes that they return to their community as leaders and mentors to help future generations. While being a part of Puente we had to regularly keep in contact with our assigned counselor and make a yearlong commitment to the program. During the program, I gained a great sense of community. The program’s slogan happens to be, “once a Puentista, always a Puentista.” It was this program and my counselor, Sandy Valenzuela, who ultimately helped me succeed in transferring to Cal State Long Beach.
I faced a few bumps in my first semester as a transfer student that were easy enough to overcome, such as engaging in a new community and learning how to be responsible for myself. The two years at CSULB went by fast. Before I knew it, I was already searching for the next thing to do after graduation. Little did I know it would be volunteering a year as a CSU STEM VISTA. My second year at CSULB, which was my senior year, was when I came across VISTA at a job fair. At the same time, I found out that I did not qualify for BUILD. BUILD, which stands for BUilding Infrastructure Leading to Diversity, is a program with a two-year commitment that offers intensive research training opportunities for undergrad students. I was not allowed to do BUILD because I was on a contract from my community college to graduate within two years at CSULB. I didn’t find out about BUILD until my senior year. It was quite disheartening to know that I would not be able to participate in such an amazing program where you are given a mentor and it prepares you to take the GRE. Shortly after realizing I would not be able to join BUILD, I came across VISTA at a job fair. Becoming a CSU STEM VISTA was my silver lining to help students learn about the great resources or programs that their campus offered. Because of my missed opportunity at Cal State Long Beach I did not want other students to miss out on programs just because of limited knowledge or understanding of how certain programs work. Although my opportunity at a great program was missed, it was an eye opener and intrinsic motivator to help students not miss out on great opportunities, whether as a transfer student or being the first in the family to attend college.
Ah-ha moment: Now that I have reached the halfway mark in my year of service, I have learned that I am exactly where I need to be. When I was finishing up my undergrad at CSULB I couldn’t find a connection to the real world and to what I was learning as a student. How was I going to apply my knowledge to the real world once I graduated? This was an important factor that I was missing as I got closer to graduation. The whole time that I have been involved with the First Year Experience program at Fresno State I have had many ah-ha moments. I realize just how applicable my education would come to make sense as soon as I was able to experience life outside of school. Although being a Psychology major in a STEM related field, I have at times definitely felt like an outsider, but feeling like an outsider has its advantages. I am able to take a step back and look at moments through a different lens. Being able to apply what I have learned by having a degree in Psychology is by far the best ah-ha moment that I appreciate.
Advice: Let this year be YOUR year. Take advantage of it, if it wasn’t for this year in VISTA and given the opportunity and free range to explore what makes me happy, I would’ve never discovered that creating social media outreach would be my favorite thing to do. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something just because they may not be able to do so. Also if there’s a will there is a way, and I believe that to my core. There are so many opportunities each day. If you take the time to recognize them and capture those opportunities, it’ll open many doors to what makes you truly happy.
Future Goals/Plans: My ultimate goal and dream is to be able to work in a space where I am able to create. I’ve had the opportunity as a VISTA to create flyers, posters, keep the social media up to date, etc. And I’ve noticed that these outreach opportunities to be creative are what I have enjoyed the most. VISTA has helped me discover what I enjoy. I plan on doing another year of service, but instead of focusing on STEM Education within the CSU system I’m gearing my next year of service towards social media outreach. This year as a CSU STEM VISTA has given me an amazing opportunity to grow as a person as well as a professional.