October 26, 2018

Ever since Yessica Santana was 12 years old, she has been interpreting and translating. When her family moved from Mexico to Minnesota, the language barrier her parents faced made everyday life difficult.

Santana was often asked by her parents and neighbors for help with filling out forms, doctor’s appointments, and at 15, she interpreted and translated for someone who was giving birth.

Now, as the Latino Student Services Coordinator at Century College, Santana continues to help others overcome barriers. As a first-generation college student, Santana struggled to navigate the realm of college education. She strives to be the guide for Latino and first-generation college students that she never had.

“Given my background and personal experience, I wanted to be able to help others so they wouldn’t make the same mistakes I made,” said Santana.

Santana works in the Multicultural Center at Century College. The Center’s mission is to serve historically marginalized students by providing access to higher education and supporting them during their time at Century College – a mission that Santana holds close to her heart.

“I once read a quote that says, ‘when you find something you’re passionate about, you don’t work a single day in your life,’” said Santana. “That’s been my experience here, and that is what I want to help Latino students achieve in the lives, as well.”

Making Connections

At the Multicultural Center, Santana helps students connect with campus resources, apply for financial aid, and navigate the College admissions process. One of Santana’s biggest roles, though, is a mentor.

“I saw Yessica as my mentor,” said former Century College student Ruth Mejia. “Anytime I had a situation that required problem solving or critical thinking, I was always able to come to her for advice.”

Though Mejia had considered transferring during her first year to a school where more of her friends were, she made connections to organizations and other students through Santana.

Mejia ended her second year having made life-long friends and serving as President of the Student Senate. She credits Santana for opening the door for her to grow into a leader. Santana connected Mejia with Movimiento Latino, a student organization led by Santana that celebrates Latino culture.

Thanks to help from Santana and the Multicultural Center, Mejia was also able to attain a full-ride scholarship to Augsburg University.

“Yessica took time out of her schedule to sit down with me, helping me to calm down and write,” said Mejia. “She is the reason I’m attending Augsburg.”

Looking out for Students

What Yessica Santana appreciates most about Century College is that teachers and staff go the extra mile for students. If you ask Lucino Sosa, a current Century College student, Santana certainly embodies that trait. It is because of Santana’s assistance that Sosa was able to attain the IME Becas Scholarship from the Mexican Consulate, allowing him to afford a college education.

“She went above and beyond for me,” said Sosa. “I see Yessica as a guardian angel – she’s always there for me and helping me out.”

For Sosa, a first-generation college student, the transition to college was particularly difficult. Sosa was living alone, paying for himself and eight siblings back home in Mexico with the money he made working at McDonald’s.

On top of that, Sosa was the victim of two muggings that left him traumatized.

“During my third semester, I had a lot of trouble focusing. Yessica stayed and helped me with my homework,” said Sosa. “I’ll never forget when she told me, ‘I want you to succeed. I know this happened and it’s horrible, but you have to keep going. If you stay home, you’re going to get more depressed. You need to come to school and do the best you can.’”

But Sosa did more than push onward – he thrived. At the encouragement of Santana, Sosa joined the Student Senate, The Century Times newspaper, and the student organization called Movimiento Latino – all while maintaining a 3.5 GPA.

“I Feel Lucky to be here”

When Santana graduated from college, she knew she wanted to work in education. She looked at many two-year colleges. But what drew her to Century College was their mission statement: “Century College inspires, prepares, and empowers students to succeed in a changing world.”

Santana certainly believes Century College espouses its mission.

“Century College is a great place for students,” said Santana. “The staff really does everything it can to help students succeed. I feel lucky to be here with them.”

When Santana heard about the open position for the Latino Student Services Coordinator, she knew she’d be a good fit.

What Santana didn’t expect is the bond she would form with students. To Santana, the relationship between the students and Multicultural Center is like family. Though it’s hard for her to see students leave, students do come back often to Century College after they graduate to visit Santana and the Multicultural Center.

“The Multicultural Center is a place where students can come in any time, where they can feel comfortable, and where they can feel they belong. I’ve been told by students that it’s like home for them,” said Santana. “It is for me, too.”