These Arizona alumni utilized growth experiences during the teen years and found the future of their dreams!
By Myrna Cardenas
Is your teen struggling academically? Do you wish they would pick a career and start working towards that? Don’t stress too much – there’s still time to decide. And they shouldn’t rush during these formative years.
The turmoil that comes with being a teen also comes with valuable opportunities for growth and life lessons. So, we interviewed scholar alumni to find out where they are now and what they wished they had known during their teen years.
All of these inspiring individuals are part of the Education Forward Arizona scholar alumni board. They recognized opportunities at a young age that would help propel them toward the future they dreamed of, and they worked hard to make that happen. But they also had help – each one worked with one of our success advisers throughout their college years; and scholarship dollars helped to ensure that financial challenges did not get in the way of academic achievements.
Here is what they had to say:
Brenda comes from humble beginnings. Her childhood was marked by financial hardships, her parents’ divorce, sacrifices and hard work. Growing up in west Phoenix was not easy, especially as the child of a single mom.
But it was Brenda’s mother that instilled in her the value of education. It is what made Brenda work hard to become one of the best students in her class. She avoided distractions and as a result, earned a full-ride academic scholarship to attend Arizona State University. She had big dreams! And wanted to contribute to her family.
And she has certainly done that… Brenda chose a career path with a strong job outlook: accounting. Even though she excelled and graduated in only three years, Brenda had a challenging time getting her first job. But she persisted and landed a role at one of the country’s biggest accounting firms. It was one of her proudest days!
But it was also a learning experience. Brenda quickly realized that she wanted to have a job doing something more creative. Her next role was in a marketing startup. That is when the entrepreneurship bug bit her. She and a partner launched an e-commerce brand and innovative teeth-whitening product. They did not know how successful Snow would be, but the brand quickly grew in popularity and Brenda got experience in managing supply chains, planning marketing efforts, leading customer experience initiatives and more.
That challenging – but fulfilling – role eventually escalated, and Brenda realized she was working too much. Today, she is using her skills and life experience to help other start-ups through her consulting business. And she is doing it on her own terms.
Brenda’s advice for teens:
- “I’ve faced a lot of adversity. There were so many times I felt alone and many times I was doing things for the first time. When you find yourself there, keep your goal in mind and remember that struggle will be temporary.”
- “Find a support system! I had a Hispanic business club in college where I could connect with people who have had similar experiences to mine. I also had a success adviser, and friends, through Education Forward Arizona, who helped me both personally and professionally. I’m still in touch with so many of these people today!”
- “But most of all, know that anything is possible. No matter where you come from! Take every opportunity you can, and you’ll get there.”
In high school, Madison was not sure what she wanted to do for a living. She wasn’t even sure whether college was for her. But there was pressure that she needed to do something big. Because she was a strong student in high school, it felt as though she should go to a top university and study something prestigious.
Once she decided to pursue college, she was not sure how to get there or what it would be like. It turned out that University of Arizona was the right decision – getting in-state tuition (along with scholarships) made a big difference and she had some friends from high school who would also be heading there.
But early on, Madison still was not sure what she would study. Initially anthropology seemed like a good idea. But she soon realized that she wanted to do something more active. So, she took a lot of classes! She knew she needed to find a subject that interested her, but that also aligned with the vision she had for her life. She also joined clubs and attended the university’s “Meet Your Major” event to help narrow her focus.
It took Madison two years to land on dual majors in French and Natural Resources. It was a stressful two years, but worth it, because she now has a job to get excited about – she is working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a natural resource specialist.
But finding that job did not come easy. Madison graduated in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, creating great uncertainty about the availability of jobs. But she was committed to finding a role in her field.
Madison took part in a hiring event through University of Arizona and worked with their career center to better her chances. It was a career center staffer who ultimately shared her resume with the Department of Agriculture and got the ball rolling. But it was a long, and stressful, six months before an offer would come.
Madison learned a few critical lessons along the way. Here is what she has to say:
- “I didn’t get into college knowing what I wanted to do with my life. Staying in Arizona was best for me – I had a support system here and it made more financial sense. It’s not so much about where you go, but what you do once you get there.”
- “Take time to explore your options. The pressure to declare a major can lead students down the wrong path. Take time to do general education courses, and a few extraneous ones to figure out what you want.”
- “Ask for help! I had a great guidance counselor in high school and success advisers in college who helped me navigate everything. Look for resources that can help, and for opportunities that you might not even know exist.”
The daughter of farm workers, Naiby’s family moved frequently between Arizona and California, eventually settling in Yuma. After attending high school there, Naiby went on to study Physiology at the University of Arizona.
But the transition into college was not easy. The city was bigger, the classes were harder and of course, Naiby missed her family. So much so that her first semester did not go well, and a counselor advised her to move away from pre-med. But she persevered, developed strong study habits, and found resources that could help her on her journey. She also learned how and when to ask for help.
After her undergraduate years, Naiby spent a year in UArizona’s Pre-Medical Admissions Pathway, a program designed to help underrepresented students to prepare for the medical school application process.
It has been years since that momentous first day of UArizona medical school and she is now preparing for residency. She does not know yet where she will be going, but after her three-year stay, she is hoping to return to Yuma to be a family doctor.
Naiby was a first-generation college student, but she was not the first in her family to attend college. Her oldest sister forged that path, and she was followed by Naiby and her twin sister, Aimee, the youngest in the family.
Both Naiby and Aimee got their academic jolt when the joined GEAR UP in seventh grade. Aimee went into medicine, as well! Today, she is a traveling nurse.
Here is what Naiby wishes she had known:
- “There’s more than one way to get to your career. Don’t let people discourage you and don’t get discouraged if things don’t go well at first.”
- “Don’t limit yourself. Look around for any opportunity you can take advantage of and do it!”
- “Let your life be a journey and enjoy yourself. Learn lessons along the way and don’t grow up too fast.”
Patt’s parents settled in Tucson, where Patt went to high school before attending University of Arizona.
Patt’s mother was a nurse in Thailand, and he wanted to attend college in part due to her good example. Unfortunately, she passed away during his sophomore year in high school, before she could see him achieve that dream.
Today, Patt is a systems test engineer at Raytheon, responsible for managing environmental qualification testing to ensure that the company’s products will survive wherever they are used. But his path to get there was circuitous.
After Patt graduated with his degree in engineering and a minor in math, he had a hard time finding a job. But he learned the importance of networking! Through a friend, he landed a job in medical technology. That role was not quite what he was looking for, but it was relevant to his degree and provided valuable experience.
Patt continued to apply for engineering jobs and eventually landed at Caterpillar Proving Grounds as a systems engineer. During this time, Patt stayed in touch with a Raytheon contact he had met years before and it led to an offer.
Here is what Patt recommends for teens:
- “Get involved. Most teens aren’t sure what career they want to pursue, but exploration is the best way to decide. I was part of a math, engineering, and science club in high school and that really helped me understand what I enjoyed and might be good at.”
- “Explore as much as possible in high school. That way, after graduation you already know what you need to do to succeed. It might not even be college, but maybe trade school or the military.”
- “Network as much as you can. Get to know different people and put your best foot forward. That’s a big part of how I got the job I have today.”
Myrna Cardenas is the Senior Director of Success Services Partnerships at Education Forward Arizona, an organization that advocates for and acts on education improvements that advance the quality of life for all Arizonans.