“I feel like I am stepping on to the Titanic,” said Carlos. “It’s so nice!” But rather than feeling like a fish out of water, as most first-generation college students might feel at a networking event at the Pfister Hotel, he embraced it.
Myladys Montanez, Clara Madrigal and Carlos Rodriguez are all part of the Abriendo Puertas (Opening Doors) program for Latino students in college. I met them during a Conexiones networking event for Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee (HPGM). This new program is a collaboration between HPGM and the United Community Center that helps students complete their degrees, learn how to become competitive job candidates, and embark upon successful careers.
Funded through a grant from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation, Abriendo Puertas works with 155 college students from 14 different universities in Wisconsin offering resources, workshops, and networking events with professionals so students can begin building their professional networks. “I am very proud of them,” said Arely Flores, program coordinator. “I love hearing from people that they are polite and approachable.”
Myladys, Carlos and Clara were by far the youngest people in the room, but pleasantly unfazed by it. They were soft spoken, but confident. Poised and polished for their age, but with a tinge of shyness that dissipated the more time I spent with them and the more verbal reinforcements they had from each other.
I asked them all where they went to school and what they study. They sung back in chorus without skipping a beat, as if they’ve been asked this question a million times before:
Myladys: “I go to MATC and I study business management.”
Clara: “I go to UWM and I want to be a nutritionist.”
Carlos: “I go to UWM too and I study global studies management.”
Okay, clearly this wasn’t their first rodeo, so I continued to sling questions.
What do you like about these events?
Myladys: “It’s great networking – you get to learn from a lot of different professionals and find out what they majored in and you can understand how to get to where you want to be.”
Carlos: “I am really shy so at first it was hard, but after I started coming to these sessions, I learned how to talk to other people. Being in this environment helps you to develop these skills.”
Clara: “It opened my eyes to other career possibilities.”
So how did you find out about this program?
Carlos: “Well because I am the president of the Latino Student Union at UWM, Arely approached me and asked if he wanted to get involved.”
Clara: “I just heard about it from a friend”
Does it help that these are all Latinos here?
Myladys: “It doesn’t really matter, I believe that there are the same opportunities out there for everyone.”
Carlos: “No, I mean I just remember, don’t be scared, because everyone is here to help, just be you.
Spoken like real pros. I have a feeling these three have bright futures ahead.