From immigrant to college graduate
Valley Campus / January 2, 2015
Hungry for education, Juliana Chaparro was 19 when she moved to the United States from Bogota, Colombia, and she didn’t speak English. After completing two semesters of college in Bogota, she migrated to the US to live with her aunt in New York City. She landed a job at Tavern on the Green, a five-star restaurant in Central Park. She had no idea that she could earn money checking coats, and thankfully it required little speaking. She was making good money but she was longing to further her education. She didn’t want to be doing the same job 30 years down the road.
Her boyfriend, Miguel, joined her in New York. He was born in the US and moved with his family, who speaks both Spanish and English, to Bogota when he was one year old.
After six months they were married and soon moved to the San Luis Valley where Miguel could attend Adams State College (now Adams State University). He had heard of Adams State when he was attending school in Bogota.
Compared to the hustle and bustle of New York City and the public transportation there, Chaparro did not like this isolated rural area at first. It took her awhile to adapt to Alamosa. Her husband had been accepted at ASU but she would need to either complete her GED or take a comprehensive English Exam that could prove she could understand, talk and read English. Instead she registered for GED classes at Trinidad State and a year and a half later successfully took the exams in English. She graduated from that program in June 2003 and began college at Adams that fall. “The beginning was rough and I was scared to death and very frustrated when I understood only half of what was said in the classroom,” said Chaparro. She would wait until she got home after class to ask her husband the questions she could not bring herself to ask in the classroom. “Without my husband’s support, I wouldn’t have been able to do this,” said Chaparro.
She completed her prerequisites at Adams State and then transferred to Trinidad State to pursue a nursing degree. (Nursing was not available at Adams then.) After a week, she learned they would be having clinicals in a couple of weeks where they work face to face with patients and that meant talking to them. She didn’t feel ready. She withdrew and returned to Adams State to complete the psychology degree she had started. As she was walking down the hall, she passed a classroom where the instructor was speaking Spanish. It felt so good to hear her native language that she waited until the instructor was through with class and then approached her. Their visit led to a double major for Chaparro – psychology which she knew she wanted, and Spanish.
She graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in both Psychology and Spanish and a minor in Art in 2009. In May of 2012 she earned her master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. “I didn’t want to leave school because I loved it,” said Chaparro, who became a US citizen in 2006.
Just two months after graduation she was hired to work as the Transfer Coordinator for the TRiO program at Trinidad State which currently assists 140 students. “I love it here. It is a perfect fit,” said Chaparro, “I was a TRiO participant at Adams State.” To be in the grant funded TRiO program a student has to either be the first generation in a family to go to college, or have a low income and/or have a disability. The first two qualifications were true for Chaparro.
“Students can save a lot of money if they take their general requirements at a community college,” said Chaparro who assists students with transfers from two-year to four-year colleges. She also coordinates TRiO activities and the tutor program at Trinidad State. Her experience of being a tutor for seven years at Adams State helped to prepare her for the added responsibility in which she hires, trains and supervises tutors. Currently she is responsible for 10 tutors. Working with the students and watching them progress is tremendously rewarding for her. “When I got the job as a transfer coordinator for TRiO at TSJC, I felt like I was returning home, like the circle was complete. In the same classroom where I studied for my GED I am now helping other first-generation students from disadvantaged backgrounds pursue their dreams of completing college – just as Anna Mae Rael Lindsay, who runs the Trinidad State GED program, helped me to pursue mine,” said Chaparro.
Her mother, who lives with her now and has only a third grade education, always told Chaparro that her education will become her wings to fly. And it certainly has. With an insatiable appetite for education, Chaparro is now enrolled in the HEAL (Higher Education Administration and Leadership) master’s program to learn about administration and management at post-secondary institutions.
As a former Trinidad State GED graduate, Chaparro was invited to speak at their 2013 graduation ceremony. She quoted Oprah Winfrey: “It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you come from. The ability to triumph begins with you.” Chaparro went on to say, “We only truly succeed when we help others and now I have found that opportunity at Trinidad State.”