Alverno College English Major, Vania Jurkiewicz is an inspiration to first-generation students who have experienced the challenges of navigating higher education. She is a campus leader who recognizes the importance of research and outreach in driving change in policy and practice. Ms. Jurkiewicz exemplifies the data-informed change agent. Demonstrating significant resilience in the face of a first failed attempt at attaining a college education, she overcame obstacles by analyzing problems, taking ownership of her future, and now helps others to avoid the same pitfalls. She is thriving at Alverno as a top academic performer who is highly engaged across campus. Ms. Jurkiewicz has demonstrated significant leadership through the Research Center for Women and Girls, the Center for Academic Excellence, and in the community through organizations like the ACLU. Her purpose is clear – policies and practices must be transformed to support Latinx and first-generation students access and thrive in higher education. She not only leads, she inspires.
Returning to school as a college dropout was one of the most daunting challenges I ever faced. However, as a first-generation college student, I believe I must take advantage of the opportunities that my parents never had. When I began my academic journey, I knew that academic success mattered but failed to realize the importance of having support systems and knowledge of how to navigate the networks, resources, and financial barriers that come with college. I’m using my second chance to help others overcome the challenges that I once faced. As a Peer Leader, I am a mentor to first-year students at Alverno. As a Student Research Assistant with Alverno’s Research Center for Women and Girls, I’ve secured funding for and ensured accessibility to quality resources and programming for girls across Wisconsin. I designed and conducted my own feminist qualitative research study on Latinx student activism at HSIs and presented the findings to Alverno administrators to enhance our campus environment. Off campus, I’ve trained canvassers on fundraising and voter engagement with the ACLU’s immigrants’ rights and reproductive rights campaigns. This experience inspires me to continue to serve as a resource and advocate for my community and students like me.