From Field Work to Crunching Numbers
Accounting graduate nurtures college education dream into degree
By Allison R. Stormo
University wasn’t even on the table for College of Business and Economics graduate Maria Vanegas 10 years ago. But when Vanegas stepped off the stage at Fall commencement as a first generation graduate, and loan-free to boot, it was with a great sense of pride and support that she joined the Vandal family.
I came to the university on my own money,” says Vanegas. “I am proud that I haven’t taken out any loans.”
With the help of Organización de Estudiantes Latino Americanos, or OELA, and UI CAMP, or College Assistance Migrant Program, and her self-determination, Vanegas has grown past the 13-year-old girl living in Mexico, where the reality of completing high school was minimal. The dream of getting a university degree was unthinkable.
“I did manual labor when I was young; I started working in the fields when I was 7 years old,” says Vanegas.
Opportunities were limited. But in 2004, visas for Vanegas, her mother and siblings were approved. They joined her father, who had been working for many years, in Meridian.
Despite not knowing English upon her arrival, Vanegas quickly excelled and graduated from high school with a 3.9 GPA. Five years of school and work later, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a minor in Spanish at the University of Idaho.
“We have such a good opportunity here in the U.S.,” the 23-year-old says. “I recently have been thinking about how amazing life is. I am just so happy I got this opportunity.”
It was an opportunity that almost didn’t happen. Since university seemed to be a financial impossibility for her and her siblings, they shied away from college visits. But Vanegas was able to join other students from southern Idaho on a trip organized by OELA to attend a Vandal Friday recruitment event.
“It felt really good to see campus. I really liked the school environment,” says Vanegas. “My family and I are very close. It was tough the first year to be so far away, but I wanted to have more opportunities.”
She did not hesitate to embrace the opportunities at U-Idaho. She joined the multicultural Greek chapter Lambda Theta Alpha, the scholastic accounting organization Beta Alpha Psi, as well as OELA. However, she said she also felt compelled to give back to the university.
“I like that you can join a club here and get leadership experience,” says Vanegas.
While Vanegas worked up to three jobs at a time including in restaurants, offices and in agriculture, she also worked with her family harvesting corn and managed the financial end of sales at local farmers markets.
Vanegas also received assistance from UI CAMP, which helps students who have a migrant background financially and academically. The program helped her navigate an unfamiliar system and achieve a 4.0 GPA her freshman year. By staying on track, she also gained the skills in her accounting classes to give her the financial savvy to see her through school.
Now, she starts her life as a first-generation college graduate — debt-free.