Student Spotlight: Latina Leader Marisa Cordon
Why did you become interested in working with the Avance Center?
I learned about the Avance Center through Professor Elizabeth Andrade, who I met during my freshman year. She quickly became a respected mentor and connected me with many opportunities, including the internship with the Avance Center. I am originally from Guatemala and moved to the U.S. when I was 11, so Professor Andrade and I would speak in Spanish and talk about the Hispanic community, which I know she is passionate about. She told me about Langley Park, MD and I was surprised to learn about its large Hispanic community. We visited the Maryland Multicultural Youth Center (MMYC) in Langley Park and the area reminded me so much of Guatemala! I grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore, MD, but had not heard of Langley Park. There were Hispanics where I grew up, but we were still obviously the minority. Langley Park has a very strong Hispanic community. After seeing Langley Park, I wanted to be part of the Avance Center’s work there.
How long have you been working with the Avance Center and in what capacity?
I interned with the Avance Center during summer 2014 and continue to be involved in various aspects of their work. Since I am bilingual and familiar with the Latino culture, I assisted with English to Spanish translation of program materials. For example, I helped the nutrition education program by creating cooking recipes in Spanish that were easy to understand for people with limited Spanish reading skills.
I also helped with a literature review for a grant and contributed to a publication. I created the Spanish subtitles for the Adelante Victor & Erika video series and researched sponsors for the center’s annual Latino health conference.
I’ve continued to connect with the Avance Center following my internship. I spoke to youth participating in Adelante’s Leadership Program and am currently working on a manuscript for a domestic violence study. This month I am meeting with Latino youth to speak about pursuing higher education.
Can you tell me a bit about the Adelante Leadership Program you participated in?
Latino youth from MMYC visited GW to learn about the university and the importance of higher education. I spoke in a panel with three other GW students where we shared our college experiences, spoke about how to choose a major, and gave financial advice. Pursuing higher education can be really hard due to family situations, so we talked about ways to alleviate that monetary burden. I spoke to the youth about their aspirations and their dream jobs.
I am doing something similar in August with youth participating in the Avance Center’s REACH/GW internship program. I really like giving back in that way. When I was a junior in high school I went to a Hispanic college student panel and it was inspiring. It changed how I viewed education. So I love these kinds of events; I think it makes a big impact on people.
What have you gained from working at the Avance Center?
While working at the Avance Center I learned about public health and became more interested in the field. I was able to put into practice what I was learning in my public health classes. It also taught me about the challenges immigrants face — both the immigrant generation and their kids who grow up in the U.S. It’s almost a subculture that is created when they immigrate here. Immigrant parents want to teach their children about their native culture’s values, but it’s hard to do that living in a different country. It’s
interesting to look at how immigrant families relate to their kids. One thing that was interesting to me is that in Langley Park many of the Latino immigrants don’t even speak Spanish. They only speak their indigenous language. So that’s another obstacle for them.
The Adelante program is a great prevention method to avoid problems that could happen with immigrant youth. I like how the program provides support for youth that they might not feel they get from their parents, since their parents lived in such a different culture. Adelante guides youth and parents through the process of high school, too. Overall the experience was valuable; it was an example of what I could do in the future with this degree.
How will you use these skills in the future? What are your goals for the future?
I’m interested in mental health and working with the Latino community. I’m not sure if it’s in a clinical or public health setting quite yet. I learned that you can make positive health changes through both one-on-one clinical care, and also through public health community-wide interventions. My internship with the Avance Center was a great experience.
Ms. Cordon is a Psychology major and Public Health minor at GW. Upon graduating in December 2015 with a B.A., she plans to work in the mental health field and attend graduate school in the future.