From Hiding in My Room to Being a Student Leader in the Draper Center

By Selena Lopez ‘22

Back in the year 2018 (seems far away, doesn’t it?), I came across a Facebook post asking for someone to lead a tour for a group of first-generation, low-income students visiting the Draper Center, the center for community service at Pomona. Being a fellow first-gen, low income student, I  thought it would be fun to show them around my school. Did I know how to give a tour? Not really, besides the experience from high school. Was I a first year who was still very new to the school and probably knew less than I thought I did? Of course. But I was excited, and so I volunteered.

Selena and friends on playgroundAfter giving the tour, I met Jose Ramirez, one of the directors of the Draper Center. After just one conversation, I knew I wanted to be more involved with the goals of the Center. I reached out to some of my friends who I knew were more involved and asked if I could tag along for a session of Next Level, a program in which we try to foster self-development and promote options after high school for high school students. I also volunteered as a LINC Partner (Learning in Collaboration), going to a local elementary school to help develop reading and math skills for first graders.  I fell in love with the impact I was making and treasured the relationships I was able to create with students who were like me. Back home in South Carolina, programs like these did not exist, so I didn’t have someone to lead the way or someone to look up to. But through the Draper Center, I am becoming the person I wished I had been able to connect with. The joy my community service brings me is worth more than I can explain, and as my involvement with the Draper Center has grown, so has the potential of my impact.

Selena and friends in the classroomFast forward a year, and I am now a coordinator of Next Level and will also lead an Alternabreak trip over spring break to San Diego for a week full of community service to impact the Latinx community. From being a shy first year struggling to find my place, I have become a leader in the Draper Center community and have even gained insight into what I would like to do in life. I can see myself going into nonprofit work with goals similar to those of the Draper Center, or more specifically going into education policy work in hopes of improving the system that often fails students of color in low-income communities.

So, I’m glad I was a little adventurous back in my first  year, doing someone out of my comfort zone. Because of that moment, I found a place on campus where I truly feel like I belong. Oh, and that tour I   gave  undoubtedly led me to becoming an official Pomona College tour guide and becoming even more involved in the Admissions Office. But that, my friends, is a story for another day.