Stephanie’s Story of Connecting & Guiding Alumni towards Graduation
“I’ve always wanted to be in a position where I’m able to help others.”
Stephania is a first-generation, Latinx college student who graduated from a neighborhood high school on the northside of Chicago. Immediately after graduating high school, Stephania enrolled in college where she studies Marketing and Psychology. She has been a Transitional Youth Leader (TYL) since May 2023 and is eager to continue her work as a peer mentor.
High School Life
Stephania’s struggles navigating high school as a first-generation student motivate her work as a TYL. In high school, Stephania was part of a National college-access program that helps students apply to college by connecting them with near-peer mentors. Stephania notes that it was helpful to have near-peer support because it made advice easier to hear. Aside from the program, Stephania connected well with teachers and counselors at her school who supported her in applying to colleges. They encouraged her to consider what qualities she wanted in a college to help narrow her search. Upon reflection, Stephania knew that she wanted to spend time away from home for college because she wanted to try something new. She also wanted a diverse, but small, college campus.
When Stephania began her undergraduate career at a private, 4-year university in the suburbs of Chicago, she immediately connected with a freshman advisor. Her advisor shared general welcome information about the campus, but Stephania especially appreciated that her mentor spoke Spanish. This was crucial to involving Stephania’s parents in their daughter’s college-going process, considering Stephania’s parents only spoke Spanish. Stephania also connected well with her professors. “Coming from a big and diverse high school to a small college is really nice. I feel like I know my professors more, and that supports my learning.”
“Coming from a big and diverse high school to a small college is really nice. I feel like I know my professors more, and that supports my learning.”
Life as a Transitional Youth Leader (TYL)
Stephania began her TYL position in the summer of 2023, so her role will formally start in the academic year. She hopes to make herself available to her mentees because she knows first-hand, “college is really tough if you don’t know what to expect.” For example, upon moving into her freshman year dorm, Stephania had to make several trips to the local Target to pick up items she did not know she would need to pack. This experience inspired her to create a Dorming 101 Flyer to aid her mentees in preparing for college. She has spent the summer preparing similar resources to send to students, and is excited to actually connect with students during the upcoming academic year. Stephania also hopes to leverage her knowledge of her college to provide resources on financial aid support, mental health support, and scholarship information to CPS alumni currently enrolled at the same college. In reflecting on her freshman year, Stephania intentionally connects students with information she wishes she would have had. She said, “this would have helped me so much.”
Beyond offering students resources, Stephania hopes to form personal connections with her mentees. She believes that part of success in college comes from having an emotional support system. As such, she emphasized being available to mentees to give them a space to vent, or just someone to lean on. Stephania plans on attending her college’s welcome events for incoming students to meet some of her mentees in person and form valuable connections. “I want them to know that I’m there as support. I want them to look at me as a role model, because as a TYL, I want to tell them about some mistakes I’ve made and things I’ve learned along the way.”
“I want them to know that I’m there as support. I want them to look at me as a role model, because as a TYL, I want to tell them about some mistakes I’ve made and things I’ve learned along the way.”
As Stephania goes into her fourth year, she is mindful of balancing her responsibilities in school with her role as a TYL. She wants to lead by modeling: “Something that will be difficult — but that I can learn from — is making sure I’m managing everything correctly. I want to balance reaching out to students but also putting studies first, because if I’m going to teach my students to put their studies first, I have to do that as well.” Stephania also feels prepared to navigate these responsibilities because she finds the work that she does as a TYL to be highly rewarding. “Seeing other students get the support they need is motivation for me. I understand that this is a very transitional moment in their lives, and it takes me back to my experience. I know [being a TYL] is something that’s gonna help them and fulfill me at the time.”
“Seeing other students get the support they need is motivation for me. I understand that this is a very transitional moment in their lives, and it takes me back to my experience. I know [being a TYL] is something that’s gonna help them and fulfill me at the time.”
As Stephania enters the new academic year, she has some highlights and hopes for the field:
- Stephania hopes that those who work in the education field prioritize patience and guidance. “Sometimes students might think that they don’t need support or help… but you being the one to reach out is important.”
- She also hopes that more events are put on in high schools to promote college readiness: workshops, clubs, or student panels would help get students on the track to thinking about college. She also emphasizes the role of peer-to-peer guidance, saying that “having peers in the same shoes as you around you is really motivating.”
- Stephania believes that a course in high school on adjusting to a new environment would also help students transition to college, especially when it is their first time being away from home. She recommends that high school students be open to new experiences and put themselves out there.
Read other students’ story of connecting & guiding alumni towards graduation
Eric is a first-generation, Latinx college graduate who went to a neighborhood high school in the northside of Chicago. He entered the workforce after graduating from college, and currently serves as Transitional Youth Leader. Eric has been a TYL since February 2022, and has planned out how he hopes to engage students as a mentor.
Yvette is a first-generation, Latinx college graduate from the southwest side of Chicago. She graduated from her neighborhood high school with an International Baccalaureate Diploma. After graduating college, she worked in the education space for several years. Most recently, she serves as a Transitional Youth Leader.
The To&Through Project team would like to express our most sincere gratitude to Stephanie for taking the time to share her story with us.
Written By Noor Mryan is a rising third-year at The University of Chicago where she studies Economics and minors in Education and Society and Data Science. She appreciates the opportunity to elevate student voice through this Student Stories Series, and is thankful to Yvette, Eric, Stephania, and Kwame for their trust and insightfulness.