From Nervous to Nailing It: Finding Friendship, Community and Confidence
Hello! My name is Penelope Cervantes, and I am a proud student at Kent State University. I will be graduating in Spring 2024 in the Zoology program. When I was in high school, my main priority was earning high grades and being accepted at a great college. However, I felt nervous to attend college. I didn’t know what I wanted to major in, and I was also a first-generation college student.
So, I wanted to make sure that the college I selected would be able to provide resources for my needs. Then, halfway through my senior year of high school, COVID-19 happens. All my classes went online. This made my college decision harder to make, as I was not able to physically tour the campuses.
After doing lots of research, I decided that Kent State was the best choice for me.
When I chose Kent State as the university I want to attend, I felt nervous at first about my decision. This would be the first time away from home and the campus is two and half hours away from my house. Because of the pandemic, my first year of college was completely virtual and I ended up staying home. This made it challenging trying to connect with people during my first year. However, I made sure to be involved regardless of my circumstances. I was dedicated to having a great experience for my freshman year.
There are many reasons why I’m grateful I chose to attend Kent State. First, they offer so many resources for students like me who are first-generation, Latinx and undecided in their major. When I connected with my advisor, Dr. Nicole Kotlan, I learned about an amazing program that Kent State offers for undeclared students, called the Exploratory Program. This program gives undecided students an opportunity to learn about their strengths and interests so they can confidently declare a major. This program also allows students to graduate on time, within four years. The advisors of the Exploratory Program are true advocates of student success.
Within my college, I was able to connect with my Academic Diversity Outreach (ADO) center for resources as a first-generation, Latinx student. Through my ADO, I completed a virtual, professional development program called Academic Advantage. This program hosts different workshops pertaining to leadership skills, study tips, finance and budgeting, success coaching and more. In this program, I was able to learn about my own leadership style and how to be a successful first-gen student. Even though I was virtual, I connected with many staff members and directors throughout University College.
Through my advisor, I heard about Kupita/Transiciones (K/T). K/T is a cultural orientation program for African American, Latinx, Hispanic, Native American, and Multiracial students. K/T is hosted through the Student Multicultural Center (SMC) and it helps incoming freshman transition into Kent State. This free program provides a year-long peer mentorship as well. Although K/T was a virtual event for me, it allowed me to connect with the director of the SMC and it allowed me to connect with my K/T mentor. These involvements made my first year more fulfilling. Nearing the end of my spring semester, I received the Emerging Student Leader award.
At that moment, I realized I have the power to make an impact as an involved student at Kent State, even though I was completely virtual and living at home.
Over summer break, I applied to be a K/T mentor because I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and network with my peers, since the fall semester would be the first time I stayed on campus. It was very important for me to make lots of friends. I also wanted freshmen students to have a smooth transition here at Kent State. I ended up being accepted for the K/T mentor position. When I arrived at campus, it was scary for me at first. I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t know where anything was located on campus.
The first day I arrived, I had to go to the Student Center to meet with the other K/T Mentors for the SMC Leadership Institute. This leadership institute is required for all K/T Mentors. It is meant to give information regarding different campus resources so we can help our mentees if they need anything. This also was a bonding experience for the mentors, as we became familiar with one another.
After the third day, we were prepared for our mentees to arrive to campus. This was a new terrain for me, as I was in the middle of transitioning to campus as well. However, I had to step up and be a leader for my mentees. Throughout the rest of the week, we had so many amazing events for the freshman. We did a walk around campus, a pool party and other fun activities. On the last day of K/T, we had talent show put on by students. There was free food, music, dancing, etc. I was assigned to three mentees, and I had such an amazing time getting to know them. I met with each of them throughout this past school year. It was a great feeling to be helping them when they needed anything.
It is a good feeling to be in spaces where your identities are recognized and honored.
Today, I’m still connected with many people from the SMC. I go to the SMC for different organizations like the Spanish and Latino Student Association (SALSA), and Sister Circle. I am also still very connected within University College. This past year, I was awarded the first ever First-Generation Undergraduate Student Award, given to me by the Director of ADO, Melanie Jones. For the upcoming school year, I have been accepted as an Exploratory Mentor, K/T Mentor, and I was accepted into the McNair Scholar’s Program.
Overall, being involved on campus has been a large stepping stone in my personal growth. It has truly allowed me to cultivate meaningful relationships, and I am more confident in myself than ever before.