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Student Jackie Estrada Finds Empowerment Through Community

Going to college is a formative experience for many. For first-generation college student Jackie Estrada, attending Aims Community College encouraged her growth academically, socially and personally. Jackie’s involvement in extracurricular activities, work-study employment and classes at Aims accelerated her evolution into the woman she is today. 

Jackie Estrada in the Aims Library

Going to college is a formative experience for many. For first-generation college student Jackie Estrada, attending Aims Community College encouraged her growth academically, socially and personally. Jackie’s involvement in extracurricular activities, work-study employment and classes at Aims accelerated her evolution into the woman she is today.

Jackie grew up and still lives in Brighton, Colorado. “I came from really humble and proud roots, and I find it so amazing that I'm the first to go to college in my family.” She is proud to be a role model for her younger brother “to let him know how much more you can do if you believe in yourself.”

Beginning her journey

She graduated high school in 2020 and was still deciding on her next step. According to Jackie, her mom encouraged her to attend college, even though she wanted to take a year off. At first, Aims wasn’t her first choice since some friends were going elsewhere and starting at four-year institutions. After some consideration, she decided to attend Aims for the affordability, proximity to her home and the Aims2UNC Transition Program.

One key element of her journey was the people she met along the way. 

“I was trying to find the right mentorship because I'm a first-generation student. It's hard trying to be successful when your family doesn't necessarily know how to help you.”

Tapping into support and resources

Aims has many resources and support for students, including staff members dedicated to student achievement inside and outside the classroom. Jackie met and cultivated relationships with advisors that helped her through her Aims education, including Alicia Nava Ortiz with TRIO Student Support Services and Jacob Sutton with Aims2UNC.

Jackie also gained strength and an expanded perspective through the mentorship of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) team. Her work as a peer specialist at the CDI was an integral part of her time at Aims.“They made me feel like I was worthy enough to be a leader and to be able to talk about these issues within my own community and to be able also maybe to try and expand that outside of school.” 

That work-study job at the CDI “kicked off my social justice journey,” she said. Jackie is proud that she had the opportunity to contribute to programs around inclusivity. Some of these events included a Dia Los Muertes celebration, a Latinx Heritage Carnival and an event discussing menstrual equity. Jackie says these experiences “made me feel like I could be a leader.”

This role inspired Jackie to start a LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) campus chapter at Aims with like-minded friends. “We should be coming together and trying to be better for our community and ourselves and feel accepted within ourselves.” She said she feels like it is essential to share stories to build community and friendships on campus among the Latinx community. 

Jackie is proud of her work as a diversity, equity and inclusion campus leader. 

“I want to be successful. I want to start my own stuff. I want to talk about social justice. I want to be a strong and powerful woman. And being a peer specialist, I think, was the root of everything that I've gone through right now.”

Creating connections in the classroom

Another formative element of Jackie’s Aims journey was academics and her professors. “I loved taking ethics;  it opened my mind to see both sides of the story, not just one side.” Jackie also loved her course in environmental science. “The professor also showed me how to be more eco-friendly, learn what causes pollution, and how I can help. It’s something that I had never really taken the time to think about.”

The small class sizes at Aims helped Jackie succeed academically and led to strong social connections. “Because the class sizes were so small at Aims, I could make that one-on-one connection with my peers, and so I did end up creating really good friendships at Aims.”

The small community at Aims helped Jackie thrive and equipped her to start the next chapter in her story. “I think Aims was the bridge for me to go to a four-year university,” she said. “I don't think I would've ever been prepared enough if I hadn't gone to Aims, especially with all the amazing people that I met.” 

Taking the next step

As an Aims2UNC student, Jackie is enrolled in both Aims and UNC classes. She received a competitive scholarship from the Stryker Institute for Leadership Development at UNC, with a mission to serve women from under-represented groups and support scholars in their identity and leadership development.

Jackie is now confident about her path forward. “I have many underrepresented identities, but that isn't going to stop my educational journey.” She is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Sport and Exercise Science at UNC. She has a double minor in Environmental Science and Psychology, all subjects she is passionate about. Jackie’s ultimate goal is to become an occupational therapist, and she is thinking about possibly extending her education to graduate school.  

With all her achievements so far, Jackie sums up her experience in this way. “Aims helped me believe in myself enough to want to be so successful.”