As a first-generation student, Brenda came to college unsure of what to expect. Now a junior majoring in Accounting, she’s found her Illinois journey has revolved around connecting with her Mexican heritage while opening herself up to new experiences.
How did you handle the transition from high school to college?
“When I was a freshman, I did have a couple friends from high school here, but there was no one in my classes or in the business school that I knew. I think not having that support within class pushed me to reach out. I really wished I had people I could connect to, talk to, reach out to if I had issues with homework or learning the material. It was actually kind of hard for me to make friends.
“I had a mentor through the Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA). I had mentioned to her how I wanted to connect with other Latinx students on campus, so she told me about La Casa. She told me if I was really interested in being part of the programming events for Latinx students on campus and meeting other students, I should apply for their intern staff positions.
“I was at first doubting myself, because I had never even been to La Casa. I had no clue what La Casa was, or what cultural houses were in general. My mentor really helped me a lot with my internship application. So here I am now! I’ve been interning there since last year, and it’s been great. Being part of La Casa has helped me branch out and learn about my culture here on campus.”
Do you have a favorite experience working at La Casa?
“My favorite experience was helping plan and create our Dia de Las Madres [Mother’s Day] event. My parents are very special to me, so when my director asked me if I was willing to give a speech dedicated to the mothers coming down for the event, I said yes.
“Coming up with that speech and talking about how big of an impact mothers have had in [our lives] was very special. Saying it in Spanish was especially challenging because speaking grammatically correct Spanish is not my strength. That also helped me realize I really have to keep practicing my Spanish because that’s part of my roots.”
How has La Casa helped you learn more about your culture?
“I needed to find a group of people in order for me to connect to home. Getting to know more about La Casa was really helpful in understanding the programs they do to help people. They have small programs like META [Mentoring, Encouraging, Teaching, Achieving] and Latinx Resilience Network, and they have all these workshops on how can Latinx students cope with living in a new environment, cope with stress, and more.
“A lot of those resources helped me see things that are important in my culture and taught me I should really pay more attention. They also helped me incorporate my major into it. It’s this way of thinking: What are ways I can apply my major to this? What are ways I can guide other students to seeing how their major can fit into helping their community—not just here, but also back home—after they graduate?”
What has La Casa added to your college experience?
“I think for me, I’m a person who likes to know about other things besides Business. Business is something I really enjoy. I know it’s going to be my career, and it’s my future. But I also have other interests, my personal interests. So getting to talk to students [at La Casa] about what they’re doing is really exciting. … And I get to see how things impact our community. It’s mind-opening. La Casa Cultural Latina has become my home away from home. The student staff are not only my friends, but they are my family.
“I’m not exposed to that because of my major. My courses in Business are very different from LLS [Latina/Latino Studies] courses. LLS courses tend to have a lot of topics that hit home. They talk about a lot of injustices or social issues that are happening that I’m not aware of. So I not only got to make friends, but I also got that exposure as well.”
What do you plan to do after you graduate?
“Right now, I’m [planning on] doing a masters at the university to be CPA-certified. That would be my fifth year. I’d take my exam and then hopefully work with a Big Four* company. Later on, I want to give back to my community and open up my own services to people.”
*The Big Four refers to the four biggest accounting firms in the world: Deloitte, Ernest & Young (EY), PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), and Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG).
And you’ve already interned at a Big Four company! Tell us about it.
“My summer 2019 internship was at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). I did the Start Internship and was in the Internal Firm Services group. […] I applied and went through phases of interviews and networking opportunities and got an offer. To me this was a great accomplishment, because I had worked hard to be a well-rounded candidate to be able to get an offer to one of the top four accounting firms in the world.
“At my internship, I met diverse students from other universities and states. We were split into groups of four and were assigned the same project. Within our group, we had to construct effective feedback for a client to be more efficient and help them understand their data better. We worked with computer programming databases like Alteryx and Tableau. We created visual graphs of our data and presented it to other employees and a partner of PwC. I gained insight into the other lines of service, like Advisory, Audit, and Tax. I also gained communication, team-building, and digital skills. I was able to obtain a Digital Acumen Badge, and I am happy to say that I will be returning next summer to intern with their External Audit team!”
What advice do you have for future Illinois students?
“Be open to new things. Be open to learn, and if you’re interested in something, go for it. Be willing to discover new things. You never know what you might like.
“Sometimes people might feel like there’s something that wouldn’t work out for them or feel like they don’t belong. If at first you’re scared, you’re doubting—that’s a signal you should try it because you might learn something from it. And if you don’t end up liking it, then at least you tried it, and you won’t be thinking back, Oh, I wish I would have done that.
“Be open to trying to find ways you can grow as a person, both personally and professionally.”