Hello everyone! My name is Lydia Lara and my pronouns are She/They; I graduated from Augustana college in 2019 with my Bachelors in both Political Science with a focus in American Government and Spanish, and I minored in Latin American Studies. I traveled abroad to Ecuador & Peru through help from the Gilman Scholarship in the Summer of 2017. With the help from Gilman, I was able to double major at my post-secondary institution. I am now currently working as a Post-Secondary success coach on the Southside of Chicago.
The Gilman Scholarship was integral in my accomplishments at my first ever internship! While in Ecuador, I interned at the CEDEI Foundation Center for InterAmerican Studies. At the center, I was an Intern and conversation club facilitator where I assisted in the EducationUSA office, and posted informational study abroad displays. I got connected through the team at Gilman and worked as the only student with an internship while studying at the center! My favorite task was facilitating our weekly bilingual conversation club with a small group of Ecuadorian students. These students wanted to study abroad in the U.S. In our time together we spoke about how to apply to colleges and the education needed to proceed to the college route as an international student in the U.S.; I attended daily classes in Spanish and in my internship connected with the CEDEI community leaders, educators, and students; It was an honor to work with the team at CEDEI in Cuenca, Ecuador.
In that position, I had never felt more empowered to wake up everyday to accomplish a new goal, learn Spanish anew, and fully experience the current moment where I felt most empowered. Most importantly I accomplished my goal to come home to my father, native from Mexico, and speak to him fully in Spanish every day. Ecuador helped me learn about the culture and people of another Latino culture, and I thrived in this new country by strengthening my relationship to my identity. When I returned to the U.S. I was more competent, motivated, and focused; I understood my new experiences brought me a new awareness of myself with the world around me, and made me realize I no longer had shame to push through my broken Spanish. My ability to speak Spanish has allowed me to connect with and speak more effectively in the Latino and Hispanic Communities that I seek to serve.
Around the time of my graduation from Augustana College in 2019, I was hired into the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, which was paved by my leadership experience on campus. I began my career exploration in college with jobs in Student Life diversity, then transitioned to my journey as a public servant in AmeriCorps, where I spent two years serving in AmeriCorps college access; This year I accepted my current position at UtmostU in The Network for Young Adult Success on the southside of Chicago. I would have never guessed I may end up with these opportunities but consider myself fortunate for my educational leadership experiences. It was in those experiences I understood I had the key knowledge for students like me, who were preparing to go to college. From there is when I realized my coincidental passion for access in education mixed with strategic ways of framing the post-secondary landscape with finding upward mobility. Being the best equipped from going through college myself, I stepped into my coach position with the skill to be a bilingual coach in a city where almost 20% of the population is Latinx/Hispanic.
My personal journey with the Gilman Scholarship did not end when I returned home from abroad. While an Alumni I have had access to taking classes through Harvard online where I earned a certification in contracts. I have also served as an Alumni Ambassador in correlation with my career, and disseminated information regarding the scholarship and study abroad to our college student fellows living in Chicago. My dream is to boost out students who want to study abroad and show them how they can make their own path with the right determination and patience. Being chosen as an Alumni Ambassador coming out of the pandemic was just the motivation I needed to keep doing the work that is desperately needed in our communities.
I want to give all Gilman Alumnus current recipients, and prospective applicants a message: The Gilman Scholarship can enable you to pursue your greater goals, BUT you first have to focus on how you want to change your part of the world. I did it and so can you! Focus on your goals and stay connected to the people around you. We can only make a difference when we work together to cultivate the futures we envision. As a current Alumni Ambassador, I realize just how valuable it was to have a system of structure and support that kept me accountable for my professional profile and success. With the scholarship we can all be empowered to improve our stories in a collective way, and with kindness, help each other along the way.