The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree for Cinthya Urrego.
She has seen her parents work hard since emigrating from Colombia to give their four children the chance for a better life in the United States. For Urrego, hard work was ingrained.
In the late 1980s, Urrego’s father opened an electrical contracting company. She recalls her dad working and her mom tagging along and cleaning the equipment he needed. As the business grew, relatives started moving to the United States to work for the company.
“I remember being younger and spending a lot of time with my parents at work,” Urrego says. “They worked hard so that the rest of our family and friends could have jobs.”
The first-generation college student from Yorba Linda logged her share of hard work after switching majors midway through her studies. In her parents, she found inspiration. A mentor on campus gave her guidance.
She’ll be graduating Friday, June 10 with a bachelor’s in liberal studies. But that was not the initial plan. After graduating from Esperanza High School in 2012, Urrego enrolled at Cal Poly Pomona to study kinesiology.
Eager to begin her college journey, Urrego dove headlong into her course work. However, two years into the major, she realized it was not for her. That’s when she decided to pursue liberal studies.
“I really enjoyed kinesiology classes. However, I struggled with the science courses required and my GPA was suffering,” Urrego says. “So, I began to explore and develop interests outside of my major.”
After switching to liberal studies as a junior, Urrego applied for the department’s social media student assistant position. She was interviewed and chosen by Christina Chavez-Reyes, the chair of the liberal studies department.
With the challenge of switching majors and working, Urrego says her junior year was a crossroads. Chavez-Reyes, who also was a first-generation college student, became her mentor and helped point Urrego in the right direction.
“Dr. Chavez-Reyes played a pivotal role throughout my path to graduation,” she said. “She gave me the opportunity to become involved within the College of Education & Integrative Studies’ liberal studies department by allowing me to work closely with students, faculty and staff to carry out a variety of projects.”
Working in the department also offered Urrego a chance to gain leadership skills. In 2015, Urrego was elected the vice president of the CEIS Council, a student organization dedicated to assisting students in balancing academic life and extra-curricular activities.
“I was able to count on Chavez-Reyes for support and mentorship throughout my leadership development,” she says.
Urrego also credits Chavez-Reyes for always encouraging her to not only voice her ideas, but put action behind her words. If it were not for her guidance, Urrego says, she wouldn’t have been able to balance academics and leadership activities.
Chavez-Reyes has seen Urrego grow as an individual and describes her as self-confident and optimistic.
“Cinthya has a level of professionalism you do not see too often in students,” she says. “She is friendly, willing to accept constructive criticism, and is a creative problem-solver.”
As a mentor to other liberal studies students, Chavez-Reyes says she provides opportunities and activities that accentuate the college experience.
“I hope to help students, many of whom are first-generation graduates like myself, to see that college is an opportunity to grow into a capable person, not just a knowledgeable one,” Chavez-Reyes says.
After graduation, Urrego plans to apply to graduate school and pursue a career in occupational therapy.
“I have absolutely no doubt that Cinthya will accomplish her goals,” Chavez-Reyes says. “I expect she will seek out leadership roles in her future, as she is a dynamic young woman and has a lot to offer to those she lives and works with.”