Workhorse Scholar Q & A: Jessica Oliva

Erickson Merkel Foundation: Tell us a little bit about your family and friends growing up, and any positive effect that they had on your formative years.

Jessica Oliva: Being the eldest of two immigrant parents, I learned early on how my family was very different than other typical American families that I knew of. While many of my friends were able to get help with their homework at home, I knew that I better pay attention in class, because I didn’t have the luxury of my parent assisting me with simple geometry or biology as they never had the opportunity obtain a middle school education. Regardless of my distinctive up bringing, my parents were always ambitious in the way they worked and provided for us. My father always had two jobs and made sure to tell us that all his efforts were so “ so you guys don’t ever have to work as hard as I do, in the future you will all have a career and a education”. My mother taught us the real value of money and how important it is to save up for the future. My parents definitely defined to me what hard work can do when you are committed to your dreams.

Many of my close school friends also had similar backgrounds growing up and I remember how we would help one another with assignments or questions that we didn’t understand. We leaned on each other for support in school and by the time we graduated we had all been acceptied to Utah State University and had our first semester paif off! These friends of mine gave me hope in knowing that, I wasn’t  alone in this journey of mine in gaining a higher education.

EMF: When you were going through elementary, middle or high school, did you have a clear idea on what you wanted to do when you ‘grew up’?

JO: My freshman year of high school one of my friends asked me to take a Certified Nursing Assistant course with her that summer at our local community college. Once in class I became intrigued in the medical field and began to look into careers into that field, eventually leading me to choose Nursing.

EMF: When was it that you realized that only you could be responsible for your future, and in what ways did you take control of your life after?

JO: My parents always encouraged me to go to college but they weren’t aware of  the requisites required or how to help me apply to universities. I knew that it was up to me if I went to college when I was in high school. In high school I began to comprehended that the cost of college was something my parents weren’t going to be able to afford, if I didn’t obtain scholarships or work-full time. So my senior year of high school, I began to apply to every scholarship that I was aware of, and had my peers(teachers, councilors) review my applications or essays before submitting them. I obtained all my parents tax information and asked for help from my school mentor to help me fill out the FAFSA application at school.

EMF: Were there any people you looked up to when you were younger, and why?

JO: I always found my parents to be inspirational, because they came from a part of Mexico that is severely impacted by poverty and violence. My parents chose to immigrate to the U.S as a young couple to provide a brighter future for my siblings and I. While both of my parents only achieved elementary school education they always encouraged me to attend college. Both of my parents worked long laborious hours at a meat processing plant and even though they  came home exhausted from work they always found time to help me with any homework that they could understand.  I remember them coming home from work and hurryingly showering and leaving to attend a ESL course offered at my elementary school, so that they could learn English and become more assimilated to our new life in the U.S. My parents have always taught me that anything is possible as long as you work hard and are dedicated.

EMF: Do you have any mentors now? If so, can you tell me about them and what they mean to you?

JO: In high school I was involved in a after school program named Gear Up. The program provided high school students with college student mentors, that would help us with homework after-school. Aria was one of the mentors that really encouraged me to do well my last year of high school. She helped me apply to college, showed me how to apply for scholarships, reviewed my essays, and assured me that I was smart enough to go to college when I was in doubt. She was there for me when I took my ACT and when I graduated high school. Aria made a huge impact on my education and I am glad that even now we are still in contact.

EMF: Are there any people living or dead who you draw inspiration from?

JO: Yes, Elizabeth Blackwell. She was the first women to receive a medical degree from an American medical school. I find her inspirational because she fought many gender stereotypes, along with peers telling her that, such education was not available to women and that it was an impossible ambition that she had. She applied to all medical school in New York and Pennsylvania and did not give up until she was finally accepted to a college. She never gave up her dream of becoming a physician, regardless of the trials and hurdles she had to overcome.

EMF: When did you get your first job, where was it, and what prompted you to get it?

JO: My first job was when I turned 13 and it was at a egg farm. I went to work on the weekends with my cousins and our parents would take turns driving us at 5 in the morning to the factory. Wanting to have a little extra money in middle school to go to movies or the pools, is what made me want to get a job. Plus, not having to always ask my parents for money felt really wonderful!

EMF: What keeps you motivated through long weeks of work and study?

JO: What keeps me motivated to continue working while at school is the dream of being able to finish my degree and start my future being debt free! Knowing that I can concentrate on my career and not on the debt that I have acquired from obtaining an education.

EMF: What are your personal and professional goals?

JO:  My personal goal is to work in the nursing field for a while to be able to save up for a home, and to then start a family soon.

EMF: Why do you think it’s important for today’s undergraduates to have a clear understanding of debt and finances?

JO: I think its important for younger generations to able to understand how to handle their finances because once you turn 18, it up to you to really decided how your going to make a salary to be able to survive as an independent adult. It’s hard to see young adults be in debt early in their career because they didn’t know the interest rate on their credit cards, car loans, or student loans. Many of them stay trapped in this endless cycle of debt because they didn’t know any better or were naive of the true magnitudes that come with debt. I feel like taking financial literacy in high school is a must, as it will prepare young students for their financial responsibilities to come in adulthood.

EMF: Are you planning on any further academic pursuits after completing your current degree?

JO: My goal is to work as a labor and delivery nurse until I obtain my bachelor’s degree in nursing. In the future I hope to become a nurse anesthetist.

EMF: After dedicating yourself to work and study, what do you do to wind down?

JO: I love to read! Especially biographies of influential individuals. I enjoy traveling to new places and photography is one of my favorite hobbies.