Leslie Quijada '24 is majoring in psychology and economics. Her favorite class so far has been "Women in Ancient Drama," and one of her favorite experiences was being an international orientation leader for first-year students. Leslie, who is from Houston, Texas, is determined to have a career that lets her “travel anywhere so I can meet new people and see new places.”
How did you find Union and why did you choose to attend?
I found Union through EMERGE, which is a fellowship program that partnered with my high school to serve high-performing students in underserved communities. During my sophomore year in high school, EMERGE gave me the opportunity to participate in a summer trip. I was able to fly in to upstate New York and visit many of the prestigious colleges in the area. Union College was a part of this summer college tour. What really reeled me into Union was the flexibility and freedom they give you to take the classes that interest you, along with the low pressure of not having to choose a major right away. This was very important to me as I did not know what career path I was following yet, or what even interested me. I truly believe it is this academic freedom Union gave me that allowed me to find my passion, and it is what steered me towards the majors I chose.
Who are your mentors and how important has their guidance been?
My mentors include my Bridges Program mentor, Andrew “Dru” Alvez, who is the assistant director of Intercultural Affairs. Along with my AOP mentor and advisor, Philip Poczik, who is the director of AOP. Both of my mentors’ guidance has been the most essential aspect to the success I have had as a Union student. Meeting with them is one of the things that I look forward to the most, as it isn’t like talking to a faculty member but rather a friend. Andrew and Philip have two completely different personalities, but that is what I appreciate the most. This is because I am able to get two different perspectives on whatever I ask about while both still being helpful. They motivate me to want to try new opportunities that I would have been too timid to try without their suggestions, and to push myself harder academically and socially. I am very grateful for the lessons and laughs I have shared with both of my mentors.
Students often feel pressure to do well in college. Do you feel any particular pressure?
I often do feel the pressure of being not only a first-gen student, but being a woman of color as well on a college campus. I know my family is depending on me to be successful and to obtain a career with a high-paying job; that is what they see as my endgame. This goes along with the fact that from the area and school I come from, I am one of the few that was able to go to a well-known college out of state. Being a woman of color from an underserved community and coming into a prestigious college like Union was nerve-wrecking, just because I felt like I had something to prove all of the time. Prove that I am not only a good enough student, but a good enough addition to the community as well. While I still do feel the pressures of my family expectations, it is one of the main reasons I push myself to be the best student I can be, because I know that how well I do in college will ultimately help me and my family. The pressure of wanting to be accepted into a community where there are not a lot of people like me, is slowly diminishing because of the friends and memories I have made so far here at Union.
Where do you feel most seen on campus? Most invisible?
I feel most seen in the small classroom setting that Union provides, because I am always given the chance to speak up and be heard. I also feel most seen when I am around my friends, and in the Unity Room and AOP office. I probably feel most invisible when I walk around campus without my closest friends, because going to a predominantly white school, while my background can make me stand out, it can also make me feel lost in a crowd.
Have you provided any mentorship yourself, academically or otherwise?
I have provided mentorship during my time being an international orientation leader. I was able to help many of the international and foreign exchange students move into Union and provide guidance to them as well while they were adjusting to being in a new country. I also plan to continue giving mentorship by being a tutor in the STEP program at Union, where I will be able to tutor students after school in the Schenectady area.
Where have you found your niche? What experience made you feel like you belonged at Union?
I have found my niche in volunteering here through the Kenney Community Center. I have always found joy in volunteering for the community because I know it is providing assistance and positivity, which is always needed. Whether it is cleaning a park or giving food at a local food drive, I’m up for it all. One experience that made me feel like I belong was when I participated in the John Calvin Toll Day of Service. It was such a fun day interacting with Union students who wanted to help just as much as I did.
Do you feel your Union experience has differed from that of your peers? If so, how?
I feel like my Union experience has differed greatly from my peers, but also has been quite similar. I have many peers who are in the same programs as me like AOP and Bridges, have gone through the same classes as me, and participated in the same events and clubs as me as well. But, what makes my experience different from theirs is how I grasped these experiences and learned from them. I have faced many challenges academically and socially that my peers probably would not see as an obstacle at all. Being a full-time student, I am always trying to learn something new every day. These lessons are what make my Union experience exceptionally different from my peers, but it is what has helped me grow the most as a student and a person.