Interview with Rosa Gil

Rosa is a 2017 graduate of KAPPA International in the Bronx. She is a Posse Scholar and New Vision scholarship recipient, finishing her senior year at Brandeis University in Boston. Rosa is currently working on her senior thesis. Her time at Brandeis has been spent working at a lab, researching, as well as participating in on-campus activities like karate, community service, and A cappella.

Can you tell me more about your major and why you chose it?

Rosa: I am a biology major. Going into college I knew that I had a lot of interests and I felt confident that I could do whatever path, but I was set on doing something technical. All I knew was that I wanted to get something from college that I was interested in but wouldn’t be able to get on my own. Like, if I wanted to learn a bit more about a history topic, I knew I could get that on my own. I could read a book. In high school, I was very dedicated to my biology classes. That is where I got the sense that I wanted to explore that further. As long as you are genuinely interested in what you are learning, even if it is difficult, it is going to be worth it.

How was the transition from a public high school in NYC to a private university in Massachusetts?

Rosa: I had a lot of support from my high school, especially the office of administration. As a Latina and newcomer (from the Dominican Republic), it felt good to be surrounded by people who understood my situation. It’s not always easy to recognize support sources, but it is important to find them at all stages of your career. As a first-generation college student, I had to explore this education system on my own because my parents had no clue how it all worked. In high school, it was easier to do that because I saw the support system in place, but in college, it took me longer to find it. As an immigrant, it was difficult to find community here [Brandeis University]. The change in demographics definitely played a part in that. But with time, I made connections with many people from distinct and similar backgrounds as mine.

During your senior year in high school, how was the college process and what was it like for you to have to choose a college?

Rosa: It was very messy. Fortunately, I had my Principal and counselors support me by providing resources. Actually, my Principal recommended this scholarship [New Visions Scholarship] and the Posse Scholarship, which enabled me to be on-campus. Initially, I wanted to stay with my parents and I couldn’t see beyond that. I just couldn’t see the benefits of doing that.

How was campus life as an incoming freshman? How has it been like for you now, especially during a pandemic?

Rosa: It's definitely something new and scary. You are in a new place, so you have to make new friends and build your own support system, but you also have to be aware of your responsibilities as a student. You have to constantly work on improving your study habits. It’s very intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be for long. That’s something I didn’t understand until the end of my college career, when I started taking advantage of resources on-campus like free therapy sessions. In college, it was important for me to re-adjust the way I saw my work and social life. There are lots of opportunities for growth here and people to connect with and it was easier for me to see that when self-care became one of my priorities. You have to recognize that, yes, you are a college student, but you need to look after yourself. Knowing that I wasn’t a perfect student and that I didn’t need to be one to get where I wanted made it easier to carry difficult projects like my senior thesis.

How have you been staying motivated in school now during remote learning?

Rosa: On-campus was a lot easier because there were always people around you and it helped set a dynamic of the things I needed to do. Even though classes are meant to be hard, it informs you on the way you are approaching the class. Maybe you need to go to office hours and talk to a professor or talk to a TA about the best way to approach that class. In dealing with motivation, I had to learn that it wasn’t a problem with ‘me’ but that I had to readjust to how I approached my classes, and even social life. You can go to therapy if you need to or you can join study groups because reaching out to people is important. It puts you in a healthier place for you to be able to do work. With remote learning, you no longer have that extra social atmosphere in place. You have to be extra proactive to make sure you are at a good place, in terms of social and academic support. It really helps to know professors and to know that they care for your learning so that it makes the class not just information coming at you but a person who is trying to teach you. Make sure you are mentally in a good place so that you can approach your studies with energy and enthusiasm. Because of the pandemic, it made me question “why do I actually want to learn this information and do well in my studies” but little by little, when you start to find out the reason why, it helps frame how much is enough and you realize that you’ve done so much already. The focus should not be doing, doing, doing all the time, or I am not doing enough, you need to move away from that perspective. Just focus on what you want to get out from your college experience.

What kind of opportunities did college have to offer you?

Rosa: You get a lot more opportunities from being at a place that has more resources. I chose Brandeis because we have a strong science department and a lot of labs available. It was so easy to get into a lab, I just had to send an email to the right person. From there, I’ve had the opportunity to apply to Duke University with all of my experiences in the lab and being an independent researcher. Last semester, I was going to the lab full time and doing experiments. Who would’ve thought 4 years ago, I could do science on my own. In my sophomore year, I applied to a summer research program at Duke University, and I worked at a lab that focused on tuberculosis-based research. I also met a lot of people working in the field I am interested in. Additionally, because I made those connections, if I wanted a job someplace, it wouldn’t be very hard for me to get it.

How has the New Visions scholarship or being a Posse Scholar helped you to learn more about the importance of financial literacy?

Rosa: It has made it so much easier. For the purpose of my education, I am going to continue to study for a long time. I am going to take 2 gap years and I won’t have a stable income for a long time, so just the fact that I don’t have to worry about my college situation is a huge deal. When you are coming from a low-income area, it is hard for you to see what is beyond your immediate surroundings. It is important for schools to be proactive about educating students about what comes after a college degree and what your options are, especially how to manage debt. It also should not stop you from getting an education.

What advice would you give to students who do not believe college is for them?

Rosa: Reach out to someone who you know cares for your well-being, someone who is more experienced than you, or someone whose judgement you trust. Ask questions and be honest about what your concerns are. If finances are a big factor, you can share that. It is important to gain perspective. Do your research, reach out to professionals and ask questions. If you feel you are missing perspective, go get it.