Voices of Making Waves: Meet Yessenia
Yessenia Q. was part of the ‘11th Wave’ of students who participated in the then Making Waves Education Program after her parents enrolled both her and her sister Marlin. Yessenia is now in graduate school at the University of California, San Francisco, studying to become a pediatric nurse practitioner while Marlin is a high school counselor in San Diego.
“In high school, a 5.5-mile bridge separated my life between two different worlds,” says Yessenia. “During the day, I attended a private high school in Marin County where wealth surfaced the city. At night, the sound of fireworks and gunshots were an undistinguishable noise in Richmond.”
“It was then that I became curious to explore the wide range of inequalities in both worlds I lived in,” says Yessenia, who also recalls the significance of reading the Wave-Maker Affirmation—a declaration of guiding principles for Making Waves students—starting in 5th grade.
“I think I looked at it again while I was in college and I was like, ‘this is so true.’ They just really wanted you to succeed, and I always have that in the back of my mind,” she says.
With continued financial support along with coaching from Making Waves, Yessenia went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Pitzer College.
“Studying at Pitzer developed my perspective on all the important events that had shaped my life,” she says. “I fostered the gift and power of language as I learned to describe and identify the overarching structures and institutions that contributed to my family’s and community’s financial struggles, health issues, and the widespread racism encountered.”
“This was an invaluable skill as I continued to wrangle with my identity in predominantly wealthy and white institutions,” says Yessenia, who now advocates for marginalized people and will focus her career in healthcare on eliminating unjust barriers in health and education systems.
Getting to the Heart of Matters
Yessenia has set out to make sure that other students of color in STEM feel a sense of belonging and confidence. She has been a teacher’s assistant and peer mentor at preschools, high schools, and for first-generation college students.
“This is because my success can be attributed not just to my own hard work, but also to a community of supportive people. My hardships taught me to reach out for support, which enabled me to navigate higher education with much more success,” she says. “I have learned how to better create collaborative, welcoming, and supportive environments.”
Yessenia brings this supportive spirit to her studies in becoming a nurse practitioner—though the COVID-19 pandemic presents challenges both in terms of remote learning and clinical training. “It’s sad because you want to be able to touch your patients without a glove or be able to see people’s faces or for them to be able to see me smile,” she shares.
In addition to her clinical rotations, Yessenia worked at a vaccine clinic for people without housing in Oakland, where she helped some overcome vaccine hesitancy. “Our job isn’t to push the vaccine. Our job is to inform patients for them to decide,” she says. “I think it’s a matter of always trying to truly understand a person and how their own background shapes their identity. I have to put them first, even if I don’t agree with what they think.”
As Yessenia looks to her future as a pediatric nurse practitioner, her interests are focused on the heart. “I just think the heart is so complex,” she says. And like her own education having a cascade effect, she adds that the heart “drives so many other systems that without the heart working properly there is a cascade effect.”
This originally appeared in the Making Waves Foundation 2020-21 Impact Report as a part of a feature on Making Waves alumni modeling empathy in providing patient care during the pandemic and beyond.