Even on a campus as small as the University of Illinois Springfield, diversity is a crucial foundation on which the structures of collective growth can be built. Jen Celis, a junior psychology major and criminal justice minor from Waukegan, Illinois, shows other students at this university that one can embrace his or her cultural roots while also carving a new path to success. Growing up, Jen was surrounded by a large population of Latinx families, primarily immigrants. She has a first person perspective on being in a family impacted by immigration, as she has a parent that came here from a Spanish-speaking country.

Her mother, in particular, taught her the importance of celebrating one’s cultural identity. The pressure to act and think a certain way in this society is compounded by the fact that Celis is the first person in her family to study outside her hometown and acquire a college education. Instead of letting this responsibility weigh her down, however, she has single-handedly flourished on this campus. Jen is a member of Gamma Phi Omega International Sorority, Inc., the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS), and the Capital Scholars Honors Program. Last spring, she became a member of Gamma Phi Omega’s Delta Line, taking on the position of Deuce or Heart. In addition to these activities and organizations, one may find her helping family members with household tasks such as babysitting, a responsibility that she has been taking on since she was much younger. Celis has a passion for working with children and would like to incorporate these aptitudes into her future career.

Graciela Popoca, a junior here on campus, has nothing but good things to say about her friend Jen. “She is very sweet and definitely determined to accomplish her goals,” Graciela smiles. “She is caring and knows how to handle intense scenarios -just a very, overall, sweet person.” In high school, Jen was a member of the SHINE program, which gave dual credit hours to students while they attended community college. On top of that, she interned at Vista Medical Hospital to help patients receive quality care and efficient service, including Spanish-to-English translation, transport, food and drink provisions and simply lending an ear to listen. Outside of university-sanctioned events and organizations, Celis loves to utilize creative outlets in her free time. Knitting, craft-making, penpal writing, journaling and music are just some of the hobbies she has taken on.

When asked about the number one value that she strives to emulate, Jen states that her goal is to take what her mother has taught her and carry it with her throughout her time at UIS:“My culture, my identity, is something I hold dearly to my heart, and I will continue to do my best to embody my personal definition of what I believe it means to be Hispanic/Latinx, a daughter of an immigrant, and a first generation student. I hope to learn from others who may or may not be like myself, and to potentially assist others along their personal journeys.” By following in her mother’s footsteps and celebrating her nationality with pride, Jen is serving as an inspiration to other students on campus who may struggle with their identity or the pressure of breaking through the first generation stigma. Where there is struggle, there is an opportunity to rise above.