KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Valeria Marin has always been passionate about working with kids. She treasures the memories she's collected from years of working at summer camps and in after-school programs. Initially intent on becoming a teacher, mentors and peers at Western Michigan University helped her combine her passion for education with purpose, bringing to light her drive to help families and underrepresented communities.
"Being at Western has been the most life-changing years of my life," says Marin, who changed her major a few times as she discovered new opportunities within the College of Education and Human Development before finding her niche in family studies. "I definitely have done a lot of self-reflection, networking, just trying to find what fits right within my path and in my values, and I think Western is definitely a place where you can go and thrive."
Graduating on Saturday, Dec. 19, Marin has been offered her dream job with Camp Blodgett, the place she's spent summers since she was 9 years old. Currently an intern at the camp—which focuses on promoting social responsibility, encouraging academic success and developing self-esteem for kids from all backgrounds—Marin leads a project to connect parents with professionals to help them navigate challenges of the pandemic, such as health care, education and finances.
"I've created such a great connection with (Camp Blodgett)," she says. "They recently offered me a position, and it's something that I've always wanted to do. Now that it's here, I'm like, 'Wow, I did it!'"
This opportunity is something Marin doesn't take for granted.
"It's a big deal. My parents are really proud of me. My dad always told me to focus on school and continue with education," she says, grateful for her family's constant support on her journey. "So, I'm just really proud, really happy and really excited."
When Marin was younger, college didn't always seem like a possibility. As an undocumented student brought to the United States from Mexico as a child, she was unsure she'd be able to secure the financial assistance needed to pursue a degree. When she learned about WMU's Foundation Scholarship, which offers full tuition to academically outstanding students who are homeless, undocumented, wards of the state or eligible for the Federal Free or Reduced Lunch program, she felt her future taking shape.
"This program is just amazing," Marin says, attributing many job opportunities and professional connections she's made at WMU to the Foundation Scholars program. "The support I've gained has definitely helped me be more social and professional when it came down to my career goals."
But the benefits of the program far exceed the pursuit of career success.
"It's a family. (Program advisor) Mark Delorey and my Foundation Scholars family give me a home away from home," she says. "If someone's car breaks down and they need a ride or they need a job, we're always there to help one another. That's the beauty of it. You always have someone there with you."
Hesitant to get involved in groups in high school, Marin found the space and courage to spread her wings at Western. She joined the Latino Student Alliance, eventually earning a spot on the executive board, as well as Delta Tau Lambda Sorority Inc. and the Western Student Association.
"I like the fact that Western is small, where you're able to find your people, but at the same time big, where you're able to connect with people you never would have," Marin says, encouraging her peers to make the effort to get involved. "At Western, if you reach out to different organizations or different people and network and connect, you'll be able to find your purpose and thrive."
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.