If Rosa Romero had the option to relive one year of her life, she would redo her freshman year of college. Not for the reasons you might think. She would challenge herself more by taking tougher classes, now that she’s more confident in her academic work. Four years ago, Rosa never thought she would study a S.T.E.M. topic, let alone pursue a PhD and a career in the industry.
As a junior biochemistry major at Cal State University San Marcos (CSUSM) – she received permission to shadow an organic chemistry lab that wasn’t part of her core curriculum. She attends it each week in addition to her two other science lab classes; four additional hours crunching data wearing a lab coat, thick purple rubber gloves and some serious eye protection, all without getting any formal credit. She doesn’t mind, she knows that the extra time with the professor she admires is one step toward her goal of being Chief Chemist in her own research lab.
Rosa was raised by two hard working parents who were always very present throughout her life. It’s no surprise that she inherited their ethic. The day her sister was born was the happiest day in Rosa’s young life. Her mother had been told that she probably wouldn’t have more children after an emergency surgery ended an otherwise healthy pregnancy several years earlier – the most terrifying day in Rosa’s life. Thus, the two sisters are very close. “She’s never lost an argument, and would be my first choice for legal representation if I ever need it,” Rosa says of her trust of her sister.
If they could, her parents would give the world to Rosa. They know a lot about many things. Including raising a brave young woman who has the courage to seek and accept help when she needs it. They just weren’t experts in the college admission process, so when she made it clear that going to college was a goal for her; they were concerned, knowing their limited ability to help with the next steps. To the Romero family, the system was foreign and expensive.
Rosa is the first person in her family to continue studying after high school.
“I was really confused, at first,” she says. “I knew I had to apply to colleges, but had no idea where to start. The whole application process was intimidating.”
Rosa learned about Girls Inc. during her senior year of high school, when she started attending meetings at the community center in her apartment complex, Community HousingWorks (CHW). This was a crucial time in Rosa’s life, as everything was a first to her and to her family. The Girls Inc. Program Coordinator assisted Rosa with the college application process, from applying for financial aid to completing the necessary test requirements, to empowering her to study a topic in a male-dominated industry. “Girls Inc. guided me, answering any questions that came up. Especially when it came to my personal statement since writing was not my strong suit.” With the encouragement of the Program Coordinator and the structured curriculum Girls Inc. offered, Rosa completed her college application and also gained a new level of self-confidence. Rosa participated in the Girls Inc. programs Getting Down to Business, Latinas y Que, District Ambassador for Marri Walden, and College Readiness.
“If it wasn’t for Girls Inc. programs,” says Rosa, “I don’t think I would have got everything done correctly and on time. I’m really thankful that I had someone to help me who knew how it worked.”
The Latinas y Que program is designed to encourage girls to learn about their cultural and family heritages, hone their leadership and communication skills, participate in community activism and health promotion, and pursue academic and career development opportunities with family support.
“I love being Mexican American,” says Rosa. “I love my culture which makes up a big part of me. The other girls and I get to talk about where we are from and different traditions from our roots. Girls Inc. is a safe place where you know you won’t be judged. Where you’re not afraid to ask questions and the other girls around you are like family.”
Other girls ask her for advice and she sees this as a sign of success. Young women in Rosa’s community are heavily influenced by older generations. Luckily, in Community HousingWorks, her neighbors and her sister included, have Rosa to look up to. “I didn’t go into Girls Inc. thinking of being a mentor.
But, I love when they ask me questions. It’s been a cool experience knowing that everything I do, can impact them.”
They call her on her cell phone to ask her for advice and currently attend Girls Inc. programs in their schools and community centers. It appears Rosa set a trend.
“The biggest change in me, is that I see myself as a leader that can bring change to my community,” she says. “I have the confidence to speak my mind and take action to bring the change that I want to see.”
She’ll continue to study biochemistry and pursue a post-graduate degree. She’ll earn to fund her travel adventures and support her family. She wants to pay them back for the support they’ve given her, and care for them when they aren’t as strong, like they supported her before she was. She believes this is one of the opportunities she will earn from having a career in science.
“On my first day at CSUSM it felt amazing to know that I made it that far, and I was aware of all possibilities for the future.”
By sharing her story through public speaking, she is helping to make a difference in other young people’s lives by encouraging them to pursue higher education. It’s the Girls Inc. experience that she wishes for all girls, including her own future children. “I have seen the impact that Girls Inc. has had in not just me, but on all the girls in my group,” she says. “It’s a program that should be in all schools and available to all girls.”
Hear more from Rosa at Girls Inc. of San Diego’s YouTube Channel.