Although she speaks softly, Jessica Atieno-Walker exudes confidence when she discusses life’s possibilities. She earned her Associate in Arts in Business/Economics from Harold Washington College in May 2023 and hopes to one day work in the field of international business.
Twenty-year-old Cesilia Aguilar’s path to Wilbur Wright College and her future career wasn’t always so certain. But becoming a student at Wright has helped her decide on a future she thinks will be fulfilling, will inspire her siblings, and will support her entire family.
Cesilia began college at a four-year university in Illinois, but she couldn’t afford to finish. She ended up leaving with a $28,000 balance that she had to pay out of pocket.
That experience led Cesilia back to Wright College, where she had previously been dually enrolled as a high school student at Phoenix Military Academy. After returning to Wright, Cesilia learned she would be receiving a scholarship.
“I was able to obtain the Star Scholarship,” she said. “After that, I’ve experienced nothing but opportunity after opportunity after opportunity at this school.”
The Star Scholarship covers books and tuition for City Colleges students who meet certain criteria, including graduating from Chicago Public Schools with a 3.0 GPA.
Cesilia worked hard. Not only was she in school full-time, but she was also working mornings and nights to pay off her balance from her previous school and taking care of her 16-year-old, 6-year-old, and 3-month-old siblings.
Still, Cesilia pushed forward. She’s now on track to graduate with her Associate of Applied Science. After graduation, she plans to transfer to UIC to study biological science. Cesilia thanks one of her biology professors, Dr. Alicia Anzaldo, for helping her realize her passion.
“She changed my whole perspective of what I wanted to do,” Cesilia said.
Initially, Cesilia wanted to be a mortician, but after witnessing Dr. Anzaldo’s love of biology and dedication to her students, she changed her course of study. The decision put Cesilia on a path of opportunities she’d only dreamed of. She now participates in a program at UIC for City Colleges students that gives participants hands-on experience working in a lab and logging data.
Cesilia is also thinking about her long-term goals. She wants to study animal science at UIC, which would allow her to do two things she loves: work with animals and work in a lab. Additionally, she wants to be the first person in her family with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. One day, she’d even like to lead an exhibition.
“I grew up in poverty,” Cesilia explained. “My main goal was to find a job to make money and support my siblings. My parents don’t have a retirement fund, so I would be the sole caretaker.”
She also feels hopeful knowing there are more and more women of color working in science, as well as more Spanish speakers and bilingual people in general. She felt pride when she connected with another Spanish speaker who was doing lab work at UIC.
“For the first time in my internship, I saw a woman in the lab and a woman who spoke the same language I did,” Cesilia said.
Cesilia has big dreams, and she’s excited about the possibilities her schooling and future career will open up for her and her family. She’s most proud to set an example for her younger sister that a career in science is possible for her, too.