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Leaders of Today and Tomorrow

My Experience at The Beach

Maria Mejia

Class of 2006, Health Science Major

As a first-generation Latina, I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to go to college. My parents struggled so I could receive a college education and I knew from a young age that it was something that I would accomplish. I just felt that there had to be more to college than going to lectures and taking exams.

I have learned many skills that will help me in the future and I have met many dedicated and passionate people who are willing to fight for a good cause.

My first two years of college were the most challenging. My days consisted of going to class and heading straight home. I didn’t have many friends. As hard as I tried, my grades were not where I wanted them to be. My parents could not help me. The language barrier and lack of experience kept them from offering the guidance that I needed. After a while, I became discouraged and felt that possibly college just wasn’t for me. However, I decided that no matter how frustrating things became, I would get through it.

During my third year of college, I made a 180-degree turnaround. This is when I met Dr. Britt Rios-Ellis. Dr. Rios-Ellis connected me with the Partners for Success program and explained to me how she could help. Partners for Success provided the medium for which she could work with me as a mentor, to traverse the difficult road through college life.

Dr. Rios-Ellis took me under her wing by allowing me to work as an intern on several projects that target the underserved Latino community. I also have been part of the planning committee for the Latino and Mental Health Summit and the Latinas and HIV Summit conferences held on campus. Through these conferences, I have learned many skills that will help me in the future and I have met many dedicated and passionate people who are willing to fight for a good cause.

My mentor also provided me with scholarship opportunities. Last summer, I received a scholarship from the Latino Healthcare Professionals Project, one of the projects that Dr. Rios-Ellis directs. The project was established to train first-generation college students in health care administration to provide health care management training and to meet the diverse health care needs of the Southern California population.

After winning the scholarship, I felt like I belonged somewhere. Dr. Rios-Ellis took me under her wing as her intern and taught me not only the skills to pursue my career, but also showed me that college was not just about going to class and taking exams. Soon after, I met a great group of friends with whom I get together to study before every exam. My grades have improved drastically. I am finally enjoying college life!

Dr. Rios-Ellis also encouraged me to get more involved on campus. I currently sit on the executive board for the College of Health and Human Services Student Council. I also became involved with the Health Science Student Association and the Leadership Academy. Most importantly, I am an active participant in the Partners for Success program.

I am a graduating senior in health science with an option in community health and a certificate in health care administration. I will always be indebted for the help and guidance that my mentor and the Partners for Success program gave to me.

I feel now that my plans to pursue a master’s degree are attainable. I will be applying to a master's program soon after I finish my degree. I could not have done it without the support of everyone. A million thanks to Partners for Success and my mentor, Dr. Britt Rios-Ellis.