Aylin Garcia, a 2020 DREAM Scholar, was recently named a semifinalist for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. The award supports exceptional community college students seeking to complete their bachelor’s degrees by covering a significant share of each recipient’s educational expenses. The Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship recipients will be announced in April.
Achieving the Dream spoke with Aylin this week about what the opportunity would mean to her. She has continued to act as a leader and excel as an economics major at El Paso Community College since joining us at DREAM 2020 last February. She talked with us about the work she has been doing, and about how a difficult period at the start of the pandemic influenced her to act as a source of support and connection for others in her community.
Q. How have you been doing for the past year through the pandemic?
A. I’ve been doing great, despite the situation. My family has been very supportive. The online modality and attending college remotely can be hard work, but for me it has been an opportunity to reconnect with my family and also to create new friendships.
Q. You were recently named a semifinalist for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which would significantly support educational expenses as you go on to pursue a bachelor’s degree. What does this opportunity mean to you?
A. It’s a dream to even be considered as a semifinalist. I’ve been doing school and I also have my job — I work at the Humanities Collaborative at EPCC-UTEP [a partnership between El Paso CC and the University of Texas at El Paso]. I do research there, and it’s also a great opportunity. But if I get this scholarship it will be amazing not to have to worry about the money I need to pay for school. It’s a big barrier a lot of students face, so it would mean the world to me not to have to worry about that.
Q. You were one of eight DREAM Scholars in 2020. What was the most memorable part of that experience for you?
A. The part when I read my “I Am” poem, that was the most memorable experience and the most exciting for me. I’d never had the opportunity to share my story with people, and to have that opportunity was something I’ll never forget. I still share that experience with my colleagues and fellow students at the college. I also had the opportunity to make new friends — I still keep in contact with most of them. The students who come to the DREAM conference also get the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with people and other students.
My time with Achieving the Dream is one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had, and I think I might not have applied for the transfer scholarship if it weren’t for this experience. Achieving the Dream has meant a lot to me because I had the opportunity to rediscover myself and to focus more on my goals.
Q. How has El Paso Community College supported your educational journey?
A. Everyone has been great at EPCC, we’re like a family there. But since my first year I had the opportunity to meet Brian Kirby, an English professor at EPCC. He has been an incredible mentor for me — he’s always there to help me with any questions, or whatever I might need, he’s always there. He’s a life saver. My advisor, Arvis Jones, has also been a great mentor. She’s always there to help with any questions I have, and to point out what things we need to improve in ourselves in order to become a greater leader.
Q. What advice would you give to a student about to start at community college?
A. My advice would be, don’t be afraid. When I first started, I was afraid to even ask questions, and I think that’s a problem a lot of college students have. So don’t be afraid of that at college: it’s very friendly. The people who work at the college are there because they like to answer questions — it’s their job. Also, don’t be afraid of sharing your personal story, because that gives people an idea of the things you have been through, which can be helpful for your experience at college.
And get involved! Get involved in everything you can, because that opens a lot of doors. I’m active in the Student Government Association and in the Humanities Collaborative. Right now I’m working on a project called Connect, which I developed to help the students at my college get through all the issues that arose due to the pandemic. We meet every two weeks through Microsoft Teams, we do activities together, and we also provide students with tips and coping mechanisms that can help them through this. It has been a really meaningful experience for me.
Q. Are there any other lessons from pandemic that will influence you as a leader or a member of your community going forward?
A. Last year, when the pandemic started, I had just come back from my experience at DREAM 2020. I had a lot of ideas and plans I wanted to implement at my college, but the pandemic hit, and suddenly everything changed. That hit me very hard. For the first two months of the pandemic I was really going through a hard time. I decided to go to a professional to get some help. That led me to implement Connect. It led me to get closer to the students at my community college, to see how they were doing, to ask if they needed help.
Q. You studied economics at El Paso Community College. What do you plan to study as you continue your education?
A. I plan to transfer to get my bachelor’s in economics, and I would like to pursue graduate studies. I want to study fiscal policy and come back to El Paso to help to create more opportunities for everyone, because educational equity and access is an issue in the United States and something I would like to focus on.
Q. What’s next? Where do you see yourself in five, ten years?
A. In five years I’ll be 26. I see myself finishing my bachelor’s, maybe getting some experience in my field, and also seeing about opportunities for my graduate studies. In ten years I see myself with my Ph.D. And I’d like to work for Congress, so I see myself working there.
Achieving the Dream’s DREAM Scholars program is a student engagement and professional development opportunity for students from active ATD Network institutions. The DREAM Scholars program is a robust learning experience for student leaders looking to make a difference on their campus and in their communities. The program also integrates the student voice and student experience into Achieving the Dream’s annual DREAM conference. Learn more.