Map of US in background with photos of 6 students in different locations

From East Coast to West Coast, College Seniors Celebrate Higher Ed Journeys 

by Making Waves Education Foundation

Making Waves Education Foundation » Stories » From East Coast to West Coast, College Seniors Celebrate Higher Ed Journeys 

Students reflect on celebrations and challenges of college careers ahead of 2024 graduation season

When asked what surprised her most about her experience in college, Edinna Obaseki (she/her) shared about getting to explore the combination of her interests in politics, medicine, and history. 

“I always knew I wanted to go into a science related major in college, but my women’s studies degree was unexpected,” said Edinna, who is earning her B.S. in biology and B.A. in women’s studies from Sonoma State University this spring. 

”It was essential to always continue learning about the harm systems have done alongside the beauty of science to address and prevent many critical issues transnationally.” 

For Yazmin Padilla-Alvarez (she/her), college meant getting to pursue her interests in computer science. 

Yazmin wearing red stole at Stanford

“I was inspired to pursue my computer science degree after a high school field trip where I met a Latina software engineer. Learning about the financial stability that type of career could provide motivated me. Now that I’ve graduated, it still feels surreal.”

SHARED Yazmin Padilla-Alvarez, who graduated from stanford University this past winter

Across the country at Northeastern University in Boston, Estefan Cervantes (he/him) is getting ready to graduate this spring. He said he weighed a few options when choosing a college major. 

“On the one hand I enjoyed doing math and science and on the other I wanted to learn more about music,” he shared. “I ultimately decided that I should give engineering a try since it’s easier to switch out than to switch into it.” 

“I took a general engineering class where we used SolidWorks, a computer aided design software, and I immediately loved it,” Estefan shared. “This led me to pick mechanical engineering as my major and I have learned so much since.” 

“Now that I’m graduating it’s nice to look back and see how things fell into place to make sense in the end,” he said. 

The journey to a college degree isn’t always an easy one, though. Among the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s seniors spent their first year of college quarantining and taking their courses online.  

“My family couldn’t move me in, and I was in a place I’ve never seen before. I didn’t visit any colleges besides UC Berkeley,” shared Imani Finkley (she/her). Imani is majoring in literatures in English and minoring in computer science and comparative literature at Cornell University and getting ready to graduate this spring.

Photo of Imani Finkey in white background

“My friends and I often talk about how sophomore year was like we were experiencing college all over again. I had my first year of college kind of twice, which was very odd.”

SHARED Imani Finkley, who studies the intersections of programming language, like AI, and natural language at Cornell

Mario Jimenez Valencia (he/him), who is getting ready to graduate with a public health degree from UC Merced this month, said it was challenging to start college during COVID, but added, “As the years and experiences went by, I got to enjoy the good side of college.” 

On top of COVID, this year’s graduating class navigated barriers first-generation college students often face in higher education. 

“A significant challenge I faced was the culture shock and imposter syndrome of coming from an under-resourced high school in East Oakland to the elite environment at Stanford,” shared Yazmin. 

“With only 2% of people in tech being Latinas, and being in classes with students from prestigious backgrounds, I struggled with the advanced coursework since I lacked foundational knowledge my peers had,” she shared. “However, I overcame this by utilizing tutoring services, counseling programs, forming study groups, and persisting determinedly.” 

“In the beginning of college, I was lacking experience in comparison to others when it came to internships,” shared Elaine Fernandez Bravo, who is graduating this spring with degrees in managerial economics and sociology at UC Davis

Photo of elaine fernandez at UC Davis arboretum in a black dress

“I made it my goal to get at least two internships during my junior year. Now, I feel ahead of the game and confident in the skills I have in my toolkit.” 

shared Elaine Fernandez Bravo, who surpassed her goal, completing five internships

After completing internships and externships with NielsenIQ, Project Destined, Making Waves Education Foundation, and Deloitte, Elaine received a full-time job offer with Deloitte and shared her advice for other students looking to make the most of internships.

At Northeastern, work experience is built into the curriculum through six-month co-op experiences. After completing co-ops at Bosch and Sonos, Estefan’s most recent co-op was as hardware engineer working on robotics at Amazon.  

Photo of Estefan Cervantes in foresty background with a light blue shirt

“These experiences helped me know what it is to actually work as an engineer and granted me the opportunity to make connections.” 

Shared Estefan Cervantes about his corporate co-op experiences

Last year, Edinna started co-leading a community organization called Grace Period, which provides menstrual hygiene care packages to people in need. This past summer, she interned with Kaiser Permanente’s care experience department, which she described as “extremely meaningful.” 

Active in campus leadership roles, such as being president of the Sigma Pi Alpha Sorority at UC Davis, Elaine emphasized the importance of making connections and networking during her college experience. 

“College is a melting pot of cultures, socioeconomic statuses, points of views, habits, and ways of being. I felt happy that I already came into college knowing that not everyone was like me,” she said. 

At Sonoma State, Edinna’s most memorable connections were in the campus’ affinity community called Visionaries Inspiring Black Educated Scholars, or VIBES.

Photo of Edinna Obaseki outside a Kaiser Permanente office

“This really expanded my connections of POC [people of color] on campus. We also shared many similar experiences, which made being at a PWI [predominately white institution] more comforting in a sense.”  

Shared Edinna Obaseki about being a part of a campus affinity community

At Stanford, Yazmin said her friends gave her a lot of inspiration. “I made close friends with other first-generation, low-income students and we supported each other through the challenges of college,” she said. “They inspired me to pursue a master’s degree.” 

One of Imani’s goals entering Cornell was to study abroad. “It’s very hard to articulate how great of an experience study abroad is. It presents so many more possibilities of knowing people and understanding people,” shared Imani, who blogged about her study abroad experience in Copenhagen. 

Mario also pursued interests beyond his college campus. “It all started with a dream of giving back to the community in which I grew up as a kid in Mexico,” he shared. 

Mario’s organization, Fundacion Dopamina, has supported nearly 700 people by providing food and toys as well as another 20 students by providing scholarships.

Mario in front of green shrub wearing collared shirt

“Balancing school, work, and a nonprofit was definitely challenging, however, the satisfaction of accomplishing all my dreams helped me keep on working on it with even more satisfaction.” 

shared Mario Jimenez Valencia

“It’s really comforting to know that my Making Waves college coach has been there since the beginning,” shared Imani, who reflected on how the Making Waves team was helpful as she switched majors, studied abroad, and had questions about graduate school.  

Mario described the support from Making Waves as “remarkable and definitely something that I will remember for the rest of my life.” 

“Thanks to the scholarship, I didn’t have to worry about food, books, or housing for my whole time at UC Merced. Having the encouragement from my coach was amazing. She helped pave the way for me to reach my goals.” 

Shared Mario Jimenez Valencia

Elaine described her Making Waves college coaches as having “the biggest impacts for me throughout my college career. They would help me navigate any obstacle that came my way.” 

“The Making Waves community is one that I’m grateful to have gotten the chance to be a part of and I know I can continue to be a part of post-grad,” Elaine shared.

“I am excited to get to pay it forward and back as I continue to excel in my career trajectory.” 

Shared Elaine Fernandez Bravo

Estefan shared a similar sentiment. “Having a coach impacted me the most, helping me look at the bigger picture when things were getting stressful and think about what I want to accomplish each semester,” he said. 

“I’m looking forward to being financially stable and having the ability to explore the world. I think that my degree has opened many doors and I’m excited to see which ones I decide to open up.” 

Shared Estefan Cervantes
About Making Waves Education Foundation

At Making Waves, we are committed to educational equity. Making Waves Education Foundation is a Bay Area nonprofit that supports Making Waves Academy – a public charter school with more than 1,100 5th through 12th grade students – and leads college and career programming with more than 430 college students.​

Knowing the opportunities that come with a college degree, we partner with historically underrepresented and underserved students to help make college affordable and graduation attainable. Centering the journeys of our students, our personalized approach includes college and career coaching, scholarships, and financial planning.​

Our alumni network includes more than 730 college graduates, who earn their degrees and land jobs at more than twice the rate of their first-generation, low-income peers, with 85% graduating debt-free.

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