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From UCLA to Eastside | Reflections from Stacy Arevalo

I arrived on campus as an enthusiastic, confident freshman, but soon the reality hit that college was more than making my own schedule and hanging out with friends. I started to second guess my decision to even go to college. Neither of my parents had graduated from college, and I had no idea what that transition would entail. Despite having a strong academic background and good organizational skills, I felt overwhelmed by my classes and struggled to balance social and academic commitments. By Thanksgiving, even though I was getting solid grades and had made friends, I was entertaining the idea of dropping out. I missed the familiarity of high school and the comfort of home, but I knew I had to face the truth that growing up meant charting a new path.

For winter quarter, I took a class called "Academic Success in the Undergraduate Experience." In addition to a lecture led by a gregarious instructor, we had small discussion sections led by other undergrads. Homework included reading about topics like racial stereotype threat, the "hidden curriculum," and theories of motivation--along with journal entries. I rolled my eyes: journaling for homework in college?! But each journal prompt helped me connect with my purpose for pursuing a college education and reflect on my support system, which looked drastically different now that I was living 350 miles away from home. Just naming these challenges helped tremendously, and I gained valuable skills to navigate classes and develop a greater sense of self-efficacy to take risks and deal with self-doubt.

I later trained to be an undergraduate instructor for this same class and helped mentor other first-year students as they adjusted to college. I became an RA to help students in the dorms feel more connected to school and handle a range of challenges. While I continued to waffle on my major--I went from neuroscience to psychology to English!--I was always set on taking classes in the Education Studies Department, particularly the ones examining how structural and systemic racism impact access to education.

Eventually, all these interests merged: I realized that I could become a high school teacher, and that if I could find the right school to work at, I could combine my newfound love for literature with my interests in addressing historic inequities in education while supporting young people as they further develop the skills and self-efficacy to pursue a college education.

Looking back, I can trace a line from my early days at UCLA to my career at Eastside, but at the time things felt scattered and uncertain. I guess that's the point: college is an opportunity to take risks, push through discomfort, and do hard things--and you get to learn more about yourself, clarify your values, and discover new strengths and interests in the process.

I recommend that everyone lean into the support systems that are available in college, whether that's tutoring (even if you've never worked with a tutor before), academic advising, peer support groups, student orgs, or even venting sessions over pizza in the dorm lounge. This applies to post-college life, too: find mentors, good friends that you can be honest with, and even professional organizations to support your growth. And you can always lean on your Eastside family to cheer you on and remind you of all that you're capable of.


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