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Against Wind and Tide

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Stanford West Campus at Twilight with Great Blue Heron

Before coming to Stanford, I constantly worried about my transition from a low-performing public high school to a private university. It felt surreal. I felt unprepared and apprehensive about beginning my first quarter without understanding how things worked or whether I was academically equipped to succeed. Yet, despite all these doubts, I decided that I would not let that fear discourage me from enjoying this new chapter in my life.

With that motivation in mind, I began planning my fall schedule. I have always been interested in STEM, so I wanted to start with MATH 19 and CHEM 31A (both introductory courses). But there was one issue. I hadn't even taken Pre-Calculus or any AP classes because my school didn't offer them, and I had only done one semester of Chemistry in high school. To make matters worse, all my classes back home were in Spanish; thus, the English terminology for these lectures was probably going to be yet another obstacle to overcome.

There is an explanation for why my education looks like this. You see, I am Puerto Rican, specifically from Yauco and Peñuelas, Puerto Rico, and for the past years, Puerto Rico has faced some formidable challenges. When I started my freshman year in high school, Hurricane María struck and devastated my island. I spent two months without power and, hence, no access to continuing my education. Then, during junior year, earthquakes left my school with significant damage, forcing the school to close permanently. Little did I know that two months later, all the world would undergo a pandemic. The pandemic further prevented me from continuing my studies physically, forcing me to start and finish my senior year virtually.

You may probably guess where my worry originated from. But I told myself that I'd be alright like always. So, I went with it. Guess what happened when I took MATH 19 and CHEM 31A? Yeah, I did not pass either of the two. Even though I completed all the assignments, quizzes, and p-sets, I failed to pass them since I performed poorly on the exams.

Looking back, I often had doubts and questions but didn't ask because I felt embarrassed. Hearing others remark that the content was simple intimidated me. I was expected to know stuff I had never heard about, which made my first quarter even more difficult. Even though I did not pass them, and it was a rough period in my life where I wondered if I truly belonged here, I wanted to keep trying. I wanted to remain resilient.

After this very challenging first quarter, I contacted my academic advisor. We had one Zoom meeting, and from that point on, my life changed. She helped me understand that it was not my fault. It was not my fault that all these situations out of my control hindered my education. I was finally able to make peace with myself after realizing this.

She inspired me. I retook MATH 19 for my winter quarter. She assisted me in obtaining a tutor through the School of Engineering's Assistant and Senior Directors for Equity and Inclusion. I went to tutoring three times a week, in addition to SUMO tutoring. I also took advantage of the Center for Teaching and Learning, where I received mentoring for practically all subjects. She also linked me with an academic coach who taught me how to manage my time, study and improve in class. As a result of all these efforts, I no longer feel alone. I was so lost at the start of my freshman year because I did not know I had a guide to tell me about all the resources available at Stanford, but now I know.

If you don't know something, don't be embarrassed to ask; if you must, ask. It cost me a lot not to ask, and now I am grateful that I was able to turn things around and seek and get all the support I received and continue to receive from Stanford. At last, I finally feel at home.

Mirelys Mendez-Pons

Product Design
Class of 2025

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