08:30 AM

Persistence Pays Off for Alumna

By Tim Meehan

Some people step foot on a college campus with a physical and financial plan, execute said plan and graduate four years later in preparation to tackle the real world.

But, like many others, Amiel Maldonado did not have everything figured out.

When she began her freshman year at Cal State San Marcos in fall 2012, she was here and not at a local community college only because DACA and federal funding for Dreamers had just recently opened.

She faced many obstacles over the next few years, obstacles most students don’t have to face. But with a lot of hard work and persistence – along with the help of the CSUSM community – Maldonado graduated debt-free in spring 2017 with bachelor’s degrees in business administration and child and adolescent development as well as a minor in global studies.

“Learning to accept and thrive in the unknown,” Maldonado said of the biggest challenge she faced as an undergraduate student. “Throughout this educational journey, my hopes and dreams were constantly met with massive barriers I had no control over. Learning to accept that hard work does not always pay off was probably the toughest part.”

But Maldonado used those barriers and challenges as motivation to prove to herself that she could accomplish anything.

“This was especially tough as I was getting ready to apply to graduate school,” Maldonado said. “Constantly being told that you do not qualify or you do not meet the standards everyone else has no issue with, it pushes you and at one point forces you to make a decision to either sink or fly. Learning to let go and embrace the unknown allowed me to be more strategic and creative in my approach toward accomplishing my goals.”

Maldonado not only pushed through and applied to grad school, she earned admission to the prestigious undocumented student graduate program at UC Berkeley. She graduated last spring with a master’s degree in public health. She even got a chance to speak at the Dreamers graduation ceremony.

She’s now working as a prenatal health educator at Family Health Centers of San Diego and is looking forward to her next challenge.

“I’m embracing the unknown,” she said. “Every day I engage with strong women and support them as they raise their families. I love being able to directly serve the communities and help solve the problems I had been living through and researching all along. I look forward to serving migrant families in similar capacities in the near future. I hope to apply my research and experiences to one day develop and run my own program internationally.”

Maldonado knows she could not have gotten here without the aid and support of her actual family as well as her CSUSM family.

Sarah Villarreal, associate vice president of community partner outreach in Community Engagement, was her first supervisor and the person “who showed me that humble women can be strong, effective leaders.”

Psychology professor Kimberly D’Anna Hernandez was the director of the Cultural Perinatal Mental Health Lab (MOM Lab) where Maldonado discovered her passion that eventually led to grad school and a career in helping people.

Maldonado also praised psychology professor Sara Bufferd.

“She went out of her way to connect me with opportunities, walked me through the grad school app process, and patiently and excitedly explained to me that the financial award email I had received was in fact a full ride,” she said. “I used her handouts all throughout grad school.”

Now, Maldonado is looking forward to helping others.

“I will always have a special place in my heart for people whose voices have not yet been heard,” she said. “It’s what my whole journey has been about, and I don’t see myself doing anything else. I just want to tell students going through similar struggles: If your dreams can withstand all those closed doors, they will always be worth pursuing.”

Media Contact

Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist

ebreier@csusm.edu | Office: 760-750-7314