Multicultural students at American colleges and universities bring a unique perspective to campus and a crucial diversity of thought and lived experiences. Victor, Luis, and Samantha are but three examples of graduates from different backgrounds who did just that.
Luis Vasquez, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Born in Ecuador, Luis and his family moved to the United States when he was five. Their destination was the Bronx, in New York City, to an area that he describes as “one of those bad neighborhoods, almost straight out of a movie.”
His father couldn’t work because he suffered from kidney failure and required dialysis three to four times a week. He died in 1998 when Luis was in middle school.
Although Luis’s mother never earned a lot, he says he never went hungry. “We lived in a one-bedroom apartment, but I had toys and I dressed well,” he says.
“We were that wholesome family trying to uphold good values in a trying neighborhood. My mother did a fantastic job in giving my brother and me the right attitude to make it through. All the other parents wanted their kids to be friends with me: they said it was the only way their kids would do their homework! And they didn’t mind their kids spending all day at my apartment, because my mother would feed them well.”
College, Luis says, was a given; in fact, with his mother, it was non-negotiable. Luis applied to Cooper Union in New York City because he believed in Peter Cooper’s mission statement: “It doesn’t matter what your religion, ethnic background, or social status is; everyone that’s qualified deserves a right to a top education.”
“I really bought into this,” he explains. “I felt that it spoke to me. I didn’t want to be accepted because I was a poor kid from the Bronx but rather because I worked hard and had accomplishments that could back up my qualifications. Cooper Union believed in this, and so did I.”
At the same time, Luis was terrified when he first started classes at the school. “I felt I was ill-equipped compared to the other students,” he says. “It took a few months to realize that I earned a right to be there and that I could do this. I suppose that more than anything, I brought a unique perspective on life with me, a love for engineering and a willingness to work with others . . . plus my ability to function on very little sleep,” he adds.
Luis found it fulfilling to spend every day at Cooper with a diverse student body—comprising many religions, ethnic backgrounds, and financial statuses—who all shared a passion for learning.
After graduating with both his B.S. (2006) and M.S. (2010) from Cooper Union, Luis joined Bloomberg L.P. in New York City as a software developer, a job he loves.
In his free time, Luis plays the guitar and enjoys snowboarding (a hobby he couldn’t afford when he was younger). He continues to see Cooper Union as a turning point in his life, a place that challenged him, pushed him, and gave him the skills for a rewarding career.
Samantha (Sam) Batista, Quinnipiac University
Sam was born in the United States to parents who emigrated from the Dominican Republic. She grew up in College Point, a small neighborhood in Queens (New York City) with her parents and siblings. Most of her family and friends also lived nearby.
In high school, Sam was very involved with varsity cheer. She also ran cross-country and track & field. “I spent the majority of my junior and senior year preparing for SATs and visiting many colleges; I was pretty excited to be taking the next step in my life,” she says. “College had always been a part of my future growing up. Higher education was important in my family and definitely expected of me. I also loved the idea of shaping my own career and was always excited to learn of the different career paths I could pursue.”
Why did Sam choose Quinnipiac University for her college education? “First and foremost, the campus,” she explains. “It was definitely a beautiful place to spend four years. I loved the atmosphere at Quinnipiac, especially the school spirit. Everyone seemed really close-knit and happy to be there.”
Another attraction was that Quinnipiac—located in Hamden, Connecticut—was only about an hour and a half away from home. And since most students lived on campus, that gave everyone a chance to know each other.
Sam also liked the fact that roommates are assigned at random during freshman year at Quinnipiac. “This was a super-effective process, as it forced everyone to make new friends and learn to get along with people who may have come from a much different background. For me, it turned out great; I still remain good friends with the roommates chosen for me my first year there.”
Majoring in finance with a minor in accounting, Sam felt Quinnipiac was a really good fit for her. “There are lots of students from all over the country, but I never felt overwhelmed by the size,” she says. “The classroom numbers were always manageable, and it was the norm to get to know the professors very well. Professors were always available for help, and I think that definitely helped me throughout my years there.”
After graduating in 2012, Sam initially joined a British investment bank and was later recruited by a “bulge-bracket investment bank” in Manhattan.
Looking ahead, Sam would like to go back to school for her M.B.A. and start her own business one day. She feels college shaped her into the person she is today, challenging her assumptions while helping her refine her world-view and define her idea of the American Dream.
Victor Chen, Colby College
Born and raised in Guangzhou (Canton), China, Victor and his mother moved to the United States when he was 16.
“It was quite a life-changing event, moving to an environment in which I was not familiar with the language, culture, or social norms,” he says. “In addition to that, I came to the country with a single mom who had limited prior exposure to the American education system; she never went to college in China. It was clear to me [right away] that I had to work extremely hard to catch up.”
Victor did more than that. By his senior year of high school in New York City, he had completed all graduation requirements and also took four AP courses his final year. Victor credits his mother for making the sacrifices necessary to enhance his educational opportunities.
When the Posse Foundation (one of the most comprehensive and renowned college access and youth leadership development programs in the United States) selected him as a high school student with extraordinary academic and leadership potential, Victor was awarded a four-year scholarship to a highly selective U.S. college. He chose Colby College in Waterville, Maine.
Victor says his main attraction to Colby was its reputation in both economics and international studies programs. “Plus the campus is gorgeous,” he adds. “I loved it when I first visited.” Colby soon became Victor’s home away from home.
“I liked the resources provided by Colby; they helped me grow personally and professionally,” he explains. “Since I had only been in the U.S. for two years before entering Colby, I was not particularly well prepared for the American college experience, the social climate, and the academic rigor.”
One of his best memories is of the International Coffee Hour put on by upperclassmen to welcome international students. Victor clearly remembers inspirational conversations with Indian, Albanian, and Chinese students who accomplished a lot with limited resources. Although he admits to being shy at first, he “continued having those conversations outside of the coffee hour, and I have kept in mind that the lack of resources should not stop us from chasing our goals,” he says.
Victor also values the internship he spent at an advertising agency in Tokyo, Japan, where he did a great deal of research on the advertising industry and watched countless award-winning commercials. It was an amazing experience, he says, “and a highlight of my Colby life.”
Following graduation in 2012, Victor joined BlackRock, an international investment corporation, in the company’s business finance function in the New York office. “I help the management team to prioritize strategic initiatives and to best allocate resources for our clients,” he explains.
Outside of work, Victor volunteers for causes he believes make a difference in the community. He is Vice President of University Relations for the National Association of Asian American Professionals, where he focuses on scholarships and mentorships for kids like himself who are where he was just a few years ago.