Yvette’s Story of Connecting & Guiding Alumni towards Graduation
“There are a lot of young people who have come out of college with a desire to help others — it’s a very human desire to just help out.”
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.
High School Life
Yvette graduated in 2009 from a west side high school where she was in the International Baccalaureate (IB) cohort of students. Yvette appreciated the rigor that came with being in the IB program: the challenge helped prepare her academically for post-grad. Despite its academic benefits, however, Yvette noted social tensions that emerged for her, saying that being in the IB program “felt like a school within a school.” She continued to say, “I do feel like, in a sense, I was sheltered from the experience of the common high school student back in those days.” This sheltering ultimately made Yvette feel isolated in school.
At home, however, Yvette felt a strong sense of emotional support in navigating high school and college. Yvette’s parents had stressed the importance of education — especially considering Yvette’s mother had completed high school in Mexico and her father had never made it past the 4th grade. “Coming to the states meant that for us, as their children, we had a lot of tools and accessibility to more [resources] than they did as immigrants. They always said ‘don’t worry about work, don’t worry about taking care of anything other than your education.’” Because of her parents’ support, Yvette was motivated to finish high school and enroll in college.
She sought out support in the college application process from her local librarians. Yvette had been a long-time patron of her local library and had volunteered there since she was 10. Having built a rapport with the librarians, Yvette asked them for help on her college application materials. One librarian in particular had provided valuable feedback on Yvette’s essays. At school, Yvette’s IB coordinator assisted her in filing her application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Though she ultimately received valuable support, Yvette notes, “the college-going process had to be initiated by myself.” She often wonders how her college application process would have differed if people had reached out to her to offer help.
“The college-going process had to be initiated by myself.”
Yvette ultimately enrolled in a private, 4-year university in Illinois. She participated in a pre-orientation program that was designed to introduce people from multicultural backgrounds to campus before other students arrived. “There was a sense of ‘you’re going to come here before everyone else so you can form a community… and so that you’ll have a support network throughout your years.’” While Yvette appreciated the program, she still struggled to adapt to a new social environment. When the rest of the student body arrived on campus, Yvette felt a culture shock. Her school was a predominantly white institution which made it difficult for her to feel a sense of belonging as a Latinx student.
After a year and half, Yvette chose to transfer out of university into a 2-year city college. Feelings of displacement, coupled with financial stress, fueled her decision to leave. While at her new college, Yvette “felt more like home.” Professors could relate to students on a cultural level, Yvette was closer to her family, and she felt more comfortable participating in extracurricular activities. After getting her associates degree, Yvette transferred to a 4-year, private university in Chicago. She felt better equipped to navigate the social environment and she felt well established in her academic career. Yvette appreciated the opportunity she had to be exposed to different colleges and their cultures, saying, “these are all things I wouldn’t have known had I not had the time to explore.”
“These are all things I wouldn’t have known had I not had the time to explore.”
Life as a Transitional Youth Leader (TYL)
In her role as a Transitional Youth Leader, Yvette draws on personal experiences to better support the students she works with. Having to be the one asking for help in navigating the college application process has motivated Yvette to reach out to students herself. Removing this burden from students’ is important to Yvette: “don’t expect a student to come to you! Students may sometimes still need hand holding. They may believe that they’re on their own because they might be living away from home, but I believe students need a lot of checking in. It’s not babying… there’s just a need to make yourself available.” Having struggled with fitting into the culture of a college, Yvette encourages her students to think about many factors when picking a school. “It’s not just about the money, but do you see yourself succeeding, persisting, even just liking the area you’re going to live in?”
“Don’t expect a student to come to you! Students may sometimes still need hand holding. They may believe that they’re on their own because they might be living away from home, but I believe students need a lot of checking in. It’s not babying… there’s just a need to make yourself available.”
Yvette believes strongly in mentorship to help CPS students find the right path for themselves. “On a personal level, I know that one way to get students to succeed is by sharing the path you’ve taken. A lot of my journey was stumbling and learning… that’s a lot of energy that can put people at a disadvantage.” She describes her other responsibilities as “research mining” seeing as she regularly collects tutoring information, campus events, and important dates for course registration to share with students. “It’s like a triage! That’s what it feels like. We help students before anything serious happens.” More largely, Yvette enjoys “figuring out the needs of the students you’re supporting, connecting them to the resources that will help them succeed, and checking in with them so they feel connected and not isolated.”
“On a personal level, I know that one way to get students to succeed is by sharing the path you’ve taken. A lot of my journey was stumbling and learning… that’s a lot of energy that can put people at a disadvantage.”
As Yvette enters the new academic year, she has some highlights and hopes to keep in mind:
- “The work of mentorship is going to be even more important now, because yes we have more people being funneled into college, but we also need more people willing to help guide young people through these processes” For Yvette, that means adults making themselves available for students and checking in with them to ensure that students are supported in whatever challenges they may face.
- “We need to address the cultural impact that people experience when they go to college. It’s an unspoken deterrence to persistence — it affects the path that students decide to take. So, don’t ignore the non-academic aspects to the success of a young adult that graduated from CPS.”
Read other students’ story of connecting & guiding alumni towards graduation
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.
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.
The To&Through Project team would like to express our most sincere gratitude to Yvette 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.