Karina Lopez is a Communication Studies major and a Health minor from Independence. As an outstanding 2020 graduate, we interviewed Lopez about her experiences being a first generation student and a leader to her peers in our campus community.
What has your experience as a first-generation student been like?
My experience as a first-generation Latina has been a rollercoaster ride. Like all rides, it had many ups and downs, but one thing is for sure: it was definitely an unforgettable one. Although my parents supported me from afar, they never really understood this new chapter in my life. It was difficult to explain to them how time-consuming certain courses were and why I couldn’t be home as often as they wished. Being the eldest out of four children, I carried a substantial amount of responsibilities on my shoulders. My parents still expected me to balance school, work, personal life, and my roles around the house without each interfering with one another. Throughout time, I realized this was almost impossible to do. I was burning myself out trying to juggle multiple tasks at the same time and didn’t give myself enough credit for all the hard work I already accomplished. There were many times that I felt like giving up, but I was always reminded by my loved ones to remember how far I have come. My journey as a first-generation student wasn’t easy and I learned that it’s OK to make mistakes. It is OK to put yourself first and focus on your own goals. Even with the support system that I had, I knew I had to do things on my own. I needed to learn things for myself and be aware of my decisions.
Why did you choose WOU?
The moment I stepped onto Western’s campus, I knew it was the school for me. No other place felt more at home than WOU. I have always been a small town person, and never really liked big cities. The size of the campus along with the professor-to-student ratio was perfect. It was very important to me to be able to have one on one meetings with my professors when I needed extra help on the course material. Lastly, the diversity of the campus was what made me gravitate towards it the most. Not only am I referring to my fellow WOU peers but the variety of clubs, organizations, and opportunities WOU has to offer. It was a perfect fit!
What have some of your extracurriculars been? How did those impact your time on campus?
Coming in as a freshman, I had the opportunity of being the freshman advocate for the Multicultural Student Union. This was the spark that started my interest in being more involved on campus. Through this opportunity, I was able to meet so many great people and build connections all throughout campus. That same year, at the end of winter term, I became a member of Kappa Delta Chi Sorority INC. I have to say that this organization was the one that had the greatest impact in my college career. The fact that they focused on academics and service aligned perfectly with my own personal goals. Being a first generation student, my education is a priority, and having a group of empowering and motivated Latina women has pushed me to stay on track. As for the variety of service opportunities we had, I was able to continue to develop my skills as a leader and create long-lasting connections with multiple organizations. Lastly, in being a part of this organization I have learned what professionalism is: how to present myself and how to run meetings. These skills have prepared me for the real world in the sense that it is important to know not only how to present oneself but how to appropriately represent an organization/department.
My last two years at WOU, I had the honor of being the WOU community internship assistant coordinator. This program is meant to provide academic and career related, paid on-campus internship opportunities for WOU students. It was a privilege to work with all the different departments, supervisors, and interns. My role as the assistant coordinator entailed screening applications, conducting interviews, communicating with departments, and providing the best internship practices to both the interns and their supervisors. It was a rewarding experience at the end of the year hearing back from our interns and their experience through this program. Even though I helped manage the program, I liked to point out that I was learning a lot along the way. From the outside looking in, it might have seemed like I had it all together, but the truth is, I was just another first generation Latina, teaching while also learning with my peers.
Do you have any advice for current and prospective students?
Step out of your comfort zone, for sure! Try new things and get involved, because you never know where it could lead you, who you will meet, and how it will impact your future. Networking is crucial in the real world, and having those connections as you are finishing up your undergrad can help with having a foot in the door to many opportunities. Keep an open mind, and if you don’t like it, at least you tried it.
Who stands out from your time at WOU?
Although I have a list of people who made my time at WOU an unforgettable journey, the one person I would love to point out is no other than my supervisor, mentor, and role model, Kathryn Plummer. If I could work with Kathryn for the rest of my life, I would do it in a heartbeat. It has been a great privilege to work under such a supportive, empowering, flexible, and caring supervisor like herself. Because of her strong managing skills, working with her hardly felt like I was working at all. There wasn’t a day in which I didn’t learn something new from Kathryn. I know that the one thing I got out of this experience and amazing opportunity was believing in myself. I have always doubted my ability as a leader, and Kathryn always reassured me that I was capable of anything that came my way. She helped me see skills and potential I already had and develop new skills that have made me the leader I am today.
What is your favorite building on campus?
My favorite building at WOU was the Werner University Center. I like to say that I basically lived there for most of my undergrad. The office I worked in was there, I would have KDChi meetings as well as study groups, and I just found it the most convenient place to be at. Not to mention, it was always fun to walk around when tabling events were occurring upstairs.
What will you miss the most about WOU?
My daily hectic schedule! Looking back at it now, I know I would complain for not having enough time for everything because my schedule was always back to back. Four and a half years of being on the go and suddenly transitioning into a new chapter in my life is going to be hard to adjust to.
What are your plans for after graduation?
My goal after graduation is to find a stable job and be there for about two years. After that, I want to go back to school and obtain a master’s degree in either public health or family counseling. I enjoyed my time at WOU and earning my Communication degree; however, it wasn’t until the end that I realized my passion for health and wellness and wanting to bring more awareness to the importance of it to the Latinx population.