When she was a little girl, Cindy Quintanilla, 31, made a decision that she would be the first in her family to pursue a college education. “I promised myself that I would break the barriers and make my mom and dad’s sacrifices worth it,” she says.
Both of Cindy’s parents are from Mexico – her mom grew up in Juarez and her father in Ciudad de Chihuahua, both in the state of Chihuahua. They met in their 20s in Santana, Calif. When they married and had Cindy and her six siblings, their hope was to provide their children with opportunities to live the “American dream.” This included being able to pursue the educational and work endeavors of their choosing.
Although education wasn’t the top priority in Cindy’s family, they trusted and supported her decision to attend college. Because she didn’t have anyone in her family to provide insight and guidance, she relied on her own determination and support from education professionals.
The first challenge came when she barely graduated from Salem High School in Salem, Ore. She didn’t have the grade point average (GPA) or the scores from the Scholastic Assessment Test required to be admitted into a university.
She decided to attend community college to learn study and time management skills, but dropped out after two terms. She then entered the workforce, which ultimately gave her the foundation she would need to complete her education down the road.
“I started at a credit union in Salem and worked there for eight years,” Cindy says.“I was able to work in various positions and was promoted to branch manger and worked in management for a few years. That’s where I learned professional, time management, computer and study skills. I learned a lot from that job.”
She left the credit union when she and her husband, Jeremy, moved to Las Vegas in 2012. She worked a couple of odd jobs in order to help keep the family afloat and took time for personal reflection and self-discovery. She ultimately decided it was time to return to school.
Cindy and Jeremy missed their support group while living in Las Vegas and moved back to Oregon later that year. Cindy then enrolled in Chemeketa Community College (CCC) in Salem. She started with basic level math classes and because she was interested in the dietetics program, she made a goal to eventually attend Oregon State University.
Cindy worked with her counselor and began diligently chipping away at classes needed for the program. As she learned more about transferring into OSU, she came across the Degree Partnership Program (DPP, previously called “Dual-Enrollment”). She met with a counselor about the program and after reviewing her transcripts, he determined that she met the requirements to be a DPP student.
Cindy began commuting between CCC and OSU, sometimes up to five days each week. After one term of taking concurrent classes, she began taking all her classes in Corvallis. When she first started at OSU, she didn’t know anyone and often ate lunch in her car. Those days are quite a contrast to where she is today, having forged amazing friendships, a sense of community and memories of great professors and classmates.
During her junior year, Cindy hit another hurdle when she discovered that her cumulative GPA was not high enough to enter the dietetic program. At that point, her interest in public health had been piqued and she decided to switch her major to Health Management and Policy. “I had taken some public health classes and found them to be extremely interesting and applicable to what I did as a branch manager at the credit union,” she says. “A lot of that came naturally to me.”
At the beginning of her senior year, Cindy gave birth to her fist child, Lincoln, born just before winter break. Being the highly driven individual she is, Cindy thought three weeks was plenty of time to rest and return in January to power through the final term. And although not a simple feat, that’s exactly what she did. “It wasn’t an easy task, but what made a huge difference was having the support system at home,” she says. “Also, I found that the professors were really flexible, understanding and supportive. It would have been different if any one of those pillars were missing.”
Cindy recently walked at OSU’s commencement ceremony on June 11 to celebrate her upcoming degree completion later this year. Her father, Felizardo, (her mom passed in 2009) traveled from Arizona to watch his daughter become the first in the family to obtain this educational milestone. Her twin sister, niece, older sister and pastor also traveled to be with her on that special day. Other family members attended a home celebration following the event.
“The are no words to describe how it felt to have my family there to witness my graduation,” Cindy says. “It was a proud moment for our family and a moment that will forever change the course of my family and future generations.”
Cindy is now completing a summer internship at the Marion County Health Department in Salem. She’s excited for the opportunity to shadow professionals in various areas of public health and gain more insight into available opportunities. Much like her life to this point, she’s going with the flow and trusting in the process.
“It can be stressful, but for me it helps to take life as it comes,” she says. “I have learned that sometimes it’s OK not to have a plan. I feel like if I leave myself open to opportunities the right doors will usually open. I know that things will turn out OK and the way they should.”