Natalia Casas attended Truman College to become a teacher. She wanted to ensure that her future students wouldn’t have to wait until high school to have a teacher who looked like them.

The first-generation American Chicana grew up in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood but attended a predominately white elementary school. It wasn’t until Natalia met Ms. Sanchez, her high school advisor at Muchin College Prep, that she finally encountered a Latina teacher with a similar background to hers. The two instantly connected, and Ms. Sanchez was a big source of encouragement for Natalia to become the first person in her family to go to college.

While Truman wasn’t in Natalia’s original plan, she learned about the financial, emotional, social, and academic support that would be available to her at the college. She was also already familiar with City Colleges, as she took dual enrollment classes through the Early College program as a student in high school. She ultimately decided a community college would be a better fit for her than going directly to a four-year university, and she chose Truman College because of its Center of Excellence in Education.

“If I had just jumped into a four-year university, I don’t think I would’ve gotten the same support I got at City Colleges,” Natalia said.

City Colleges’ S.E.E.D. Scholarship helped Natalia pay for her education. In addition to providing her cash for books and tuition, she was a part of a cohort of aspiring teachers, had access to professional development, and networked with teachers. The scholarship also provides pathways to a four-year degree and a teaching job at Chicago Public Schools.

Natalia took advantage of the job opportunities the S.E.E.D. Scholarship offered while she was a student, working at two CPS schools as a tutor. She was also a scholar with One Million Degrees (OMD), a City Colleges partner organization that provides mentorship, financial support, and professional opportunities to community college students.

Growing up, Natalia was very shy in school, but her time at Truman allowed her to blossom. She took advantage of the opportunities available, bonded with her peers and instructors, and felt supported in her transfer goal. Without the support she received from City Colleges and her scholarships, she’s not sure where she’d be today.

“Navigating college wasn’t easy for students like me,” Natalia said. “I’m a first-generation college student, so FAFSA was new to my family and very confusing for us. S.E.E.D. and OMD gave us resources and guides to navigate college.”

After graduating from Truman College in 2023 with an associate degree in arts, Natalia transferred to Illinois State University (ISU). She’s currently a junior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a bilingual endorsement. As a Golden Apple Scholar, she’s receiving financial support and help finding a job after graduation.

Currently, Natalia is completing her teaching clinical in Urbana, Illinois. She’s excited to inspire young students and be the role model for them that Ms. Sanchez was for her.