Elizabeth Vanegas ’22: ‘My Eyes Are Set on a Goal Much Bigger Than Myself’

Elizabeth Vanegas

As a person who loves to plan their life, I learned very quickly after my first year of college that you can’t always expect every obstacle that comes your way.

Despite having a successful academic career on paper, I went through many struggles to achieve academic excellence during my first year. When I first began my journey at NC State, I remember asking older students the “secret” to being a successful college student. It took me a while to realize it, but there is no actual “secret” or specific formula you have to follow to excel in college. Your journey as a student in college is individual and, no matter which direction you may go, your journey is completely valid.

Growing up, I always valued my education because of my family’s background. Both of my parents immigrated to the United States from El Salvador at a young age and never had the opportunity to pursue higher education. They instilled a passion for excelling in academics in me since the day I stepped foot into a classroom. When my first semester of college began to feel rocky, I looked to my family for help. This was my first major step in adjusting to the demands of college courses.

I realized very soon into my first year that my major did not align with my ultimate career goal. I grew up aspiring to be much like my older sister, who was the first person in my family to graduate from a university and major in STEM. Seeing that she was pursuing a career in the medical field, I thought this was the same path I should take. However, when I began taking courses at NC State that would fulfill the requirements for the human biology degree, something did not feel right.

At first, I thought I was only feeling overwhelmed because of how unexpectedly difficult the courses of my major were, but as I began thinking about it more and more, I realized that my passions laid within education. When I realized I wanted to change my major, I felt terrified to tell anyone. I felt as though I had failed myself and that it was my inability as a student to blame for my decision to change my major. However, after speaking with my family and receiving their support, I realized that this was not true. When I did change my major, I was still challenged intellectually and had to put the same amount of effort as I had before.

No matter what path you choose, college is going to come with all sorts of obstacles.

In my second semester at NC State, I began taking classes in the science education major. These classes were equally demanding as those I had taken in the human biology major, but in a different manner. No matter which major you choose, you are going to have to adapt to the courses you take. As an education major, time management has been key to my success as a student. However, this is easier said than done. Even now, as a second-year student at NC State, I still find myself struggling to keep up with the demands of school.

I find that relying on the people around me for support helps make the adjustment to my college courses easier. This past month alone, I found myself feeling overwhelmed by the classwork I needed to complete and the demands of the extracurriculars I am involved in. I made the decision to reach out to someone close to me, my first-year mentor that I met through the Goodnight Scholars Program. As I listened to her words of encouragement, I realized that I have already proven that I am more than capable of facing my fear of failing to keep up with the demands of college. With the help and support of those around me, I have also realized the value of having faith in oneself. This aspect of my journey as a student has been the most influential to my academic success. A quote by social activist Cesar Chavez says, “You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”

Despite Chavez talking about social change, I applied this to my life and how I felt about myself as a student. As someone who hopes to change the education system in North Carolina and work with students who are in need of a champion to be by their side, there are a lot of obstacles facing my future. Even now, many people question my decision to become an educator in North Carolina, but my eyes are set on a goal much bigger than myself. As I have grown to have faith in my journey and decisions, the doubts of others no longer phase me and I have learned to only feel pride about my choice to become a teacher. Once you realize that you can face your biggest fears, there is no reason to listen to the negativity that may surround your path.

So, how exactly do you adjust to the demands of college courses? Well, that’s completely up to you. No matter what path you choose, college is going to come with all sorts of obstacles. With your courses, you will have moments where you feel overwhelmed and unsure if you are in the right major, but everyone has these moments. Remember: you are not alone in your struggles. Reach out for encouragement and moral support when classes get hard. Ask for support from your peers and professors when you don’t understand something in class. Most of all, remember that you are a capable student and your goals are much larger than anything you may be facing in the classroom.

This article was originally published on the Goodnight Scholars Program website

Photography credit: Jason Perry/Goodnight Scholars Program