Dr. George Robert Rohde, PhD

Meet Valeria. After growing up in Colombia, Valeria immigrated to the United States at 13-years-old to chase her dream of creating a better life for herself. However, she quickly realized that the issue had transitioned from college aspiration to building a clear path for students like herself to pursue their degree programs.

The latest policy discussion has been centered around one main barrier: the lack of direction and guidance for students in their educational journey. Valeria lacked mentorship and guidance from higher education leaders while completing her studies, which caused her to perpetually run on the education treadmill. Like so many students, Valeria enrolled in classes only to stop again when she would become discouraged or lacked motivation without a clear path to graduation. While universities in the United States may open their doors to international students, there is still work to do to offer equal opportunities to students of different financial backgrounds.

Studies have shown that students can learn and succeed in their pursuits if they are afforded the assistance and support that they need.  While Valeria didn’t find assistance from higher education leaders within her institution, she did find the mentorship that she needed from her boss while working at Burrito Parrilla. Valeria learned about the Employer Tuition Reimbursement program from her employer. Along with her boss’s mentorship, this program enabled Valeria to help pay her way through school. Valeria credits her boss for inspiring her to stay committed.  She figured with hard work, determination, and her boss’s support, she would be able to say, “I made it.”

Valeria enrolled in college at a time of so much uncertainty with the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the globe. She enrolled at Indiana Tech in fall 2020. While Valeria had originally majored in criminal justice at community college, she discovered her passion for entrepreneurship and business after working in the restaurant. At the time Valeria transferred to Indiana Tech, the abrupt switch to online teaching due to the pandemic pushed online learning into high gear.

Valeria thanks Operation Graduate for helping her to pave her educational journey. Operation Graduate helped Valeria register for the right classes that would count towards her degree so that she could stay on track for graduation. Valeria hoped that she could serve as a model for other women who immigrate to the United States.  “I hope women are not just inspired to go to school, but I hope that women are equally as motivated to pursue careers, obtain multiple degrees, overcome language barriers, and immerse themselves in new cultures,” said Valeria. If Valeria was to give one piece of advice, it would be, “Go to school.” She also added, “It’s not always easy, and it is a process, but I want women to recognize that they can do it.”

Valeria came to the United States with the intention of breaking every barrier that blocked her from the life she wanted. With support from her mother in Colombia, a supportive boss who served as her mentor, a college that gave her every opportunity to be successful, and Operation Graduate’s help painting a clear picture of how a college degree would help her professionally, Valeria finally felt like she was on the right track. Valeria has worked her way up to management at Burrito Parrilla, where she now manages the restaurant’s multiple locations, including operations and employees. She credits her boss, mentor, and friend for keeping her on track and influencing her to get her priorities straight at such an early age.

She graduated in September 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in business. Throughout her college career, Valeria commented on the fact that she has “grown up.” She elaborated by saying that she has a unique perspective on things because of the many transferable skills from college to her job. As Valeria’s knowledge and experience continue to grow, Valeria sees that an MBA is not far off in her future. She hopes that other students like her won’t have to waste time on the path to achieving their goals and dreams, and that they can look at her story as inspiration.