Earning a university degree is difficult proposition for anyone; Stephanie Cuevas had the added challenge of being the first in her family to do it.
“My mom stressed the importance of getting my education from when I was really little,” said Cuevas, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Rising to the challenge meant leaving home in the Los Angeles area, her mom — with whom she has very close relationship — and a tight-knit community. But even as a transfer student with a couple of years of community college under her belt, the shift to a four-year institution was a bit of a shock.
“I had a hard time finding friends and felt as if I didn't belong,” said the normally gregarious and sociable Cuevas, who was active in and out of the classroom when she attended Long Beach City College. The lack of connection, she said, took a toll on both her grades and her well-being.
Still, she wanted to make her brief time at UCSB memorable, so she decided to pay close attention to the people who knew how to navigate the thrilling but also uncertain terrain of college life.
Fortunately, two of her section leaders — Katya Armistead (currently associate dean in the Office of Student Life) and Phylicia Williams — were ready and willing to assist Cuevas in making the most of her time here. They served not only as founts of information but also as role models.
By her second year, Cuevas was ready to go all in. She became an intern in the Office of Student Life as well as a Michael D. Young intern, which helped her flex her leadership muscles. In the same year, she also rushed the co-ed honor fraternity Phi Sigma Pi; conducted independent research through an Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities grant; and became co-leader for ED-118, the same transfer-student success course she took to learn how to adjust to university life.
Just as everything was going smoothly, however, fate struck again, this time in the form of a collision last February with a cyclist near her apartment complex. The crash resulted in a broken collarbone, surgery, several weeks of recovery and the anxiety of missing classes and campus life.
But the relationships she had forged early on became her saving grace. Her roommates took turns taking care of her and helping her stay current with her classes.
“Thankfully, all of my professors and TAs were very understanding and made it possible for me to make up any missed assignments in a way that was accommodating to my situation,” she said. These feats of kindness and understanding made it possible for her to meet her goal of finishing strong and leaving her mark on the community, particularly the transfer student population. She has been in the process of proposing and establishing more services to transfer students, who don’t have the same amount of time to settle into the rhythms of university life as those coming in as freshmen.
Cuevas’s advice to incoming transfers? “Get help and seek your resources immediately,” she said,” because time runs out really really quickly.”