Follow Oriana's journey at NIU with updates posted here each month.
Oriana Flores might have taken an indirect path to NIU, but she was meant to be a Huskie all along.
A 2015 graduate of Chicago High School for the Arts, 22-year-old Flores briefly attended Illinois State University before transferring to NIU from City Colleges of Chicago. Once here, she quickly found her footing as she switched her major from Communicative Disorders to Human Development and Family Sciences, joined Research Rookies and began working in the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning.
One of our many first-generation students, she struggled to find the financial aid resources she needed while at ISU, and worried about the cost and burdening her family.
“I felt a huge weight of guilt,” she said. “Everything was new to us.”
She decided it was a better financial decision to attend City Colleges.
She waitressed and worked at a day care center to afford school before transferring to NIU where, through the Financial Aid Office, she learned how to fill out the FAFSA and get the financial help she needed.
She quickly caught the eye of Renique Kersh, associate vice provost for Student Engagement and Success, who asked her to put together a historical look at how students have been engaged at NIU from the early 1900s through today. The resulting “Creating Environments that Matter” exhibit has earned extensive praise and will be available during the Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day and Community Engagement Showcase Wednesday, April 17.
Given a grant to travel with Kersh to an annual conference of the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators in Los Angeles this month, Flores has become one of our many assets, and we’re eager to see what’s next on her degree path.
Oriana Flores can’t keep her passion for higher education to herself.
Back from a trip to Los Angeles — her first time there — as part of a research grant to attend an annual conference of the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators, our Chicago native is even more inspired to help others on their path. As a first-generation student once struggling to find her way and the finances needed for college, she’s been where many find themselves today.
Yet, she now feels privileged. Invited to travel with Renique Kersh, associate vice provost for Student Engagement and Success, to an annual conference of the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators, Flores learned even more about the importance of campus resources and engagement.
“We assume in higher education everybody comes from a family that supports them,” Flores said. “What about the students who are homeless or with no family to support them? Just knowing there are administrators and faculty out there who really do want to make a difference in their students’ lives and connect them to resources on campus, I think that’s wonderful.”
She’s now looking for ways to intertwine her Human Development and Family Sciences major with the world of higher education.
“I just want to help students like me — or not like me — find the resources on campus that help, and help students acclimate to college life because it can be a very scary thing,” she said.
Research Rookies helped draw Oriana Flores to NIU. Being fully engaged in what NIU has to offer makes her never want to leave.
Flores’ “Creating Environments that Matter” project recently won first place in the exhibit category of the Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day and Community Engagement Showcase. Efforts now are underway to find a spot on campus to house it permanently.
“It’s a huge display,” Flores said, “and I think being able to fully see it in person and having people make those connections of, ‘Hey, that’s what I did at NIU,’ was remarkable.”
Our 22-year-old transfer student from City Colleges of Chicago credits the Regional History Center, as well as Marketing and Creative Services and Renique Kersh, associate vice provost for Student Engagement and Success, with helping her put it all together.
Through this “really humbling experience,” she says she’s made lifelong connections to both her professors and her peers. “Communication skills, leadership skills, writing skills — when you’re engaged, you learn so much more than just being in the classroom.”
One connection keeps leading to another for Oriana Flores, who’ll intern this summer with Student Involvement and Leadership Development.
During her trip to the annual conference of the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators, Flores learned about efforts underway to increase awareness of the experiences of students who’ve been in foster care. She shared her interest in the subject with Renique Kersh, associate vice provost for Student Engagement and Success, and Kersh introduced her to an opportunity to help research food insecurity and homelessness on campus.
It’s a topic she’s eager to take on as the 22-year-old transfer student from City Colleges of Chicago explores her Human Development and Family Sciences major. She’d like to see how college programs across the nation are helping homeless students and those in foster care.
“This can greatly impact NIU in potentially creating a program that targets this audience of students,” she said. “My overall goal here at NIU is to carry knowledge and to help students get the most out of their higher education.”
Flores also will be volunteering as an America Reads tutor for K-5 students this summer at the Jerry L. John’s Literacy clinic offered through the College of Education.
“I am also eager for this program to begin because I have a deep appreciation and love for reading, and being able to potentially help a child learn how to read will be rewarding by itself,” she said.
Hectic pretty much sums up the first week of class for Oriana Flores. Everyone running around trying not to miss class. A buzzing MLK Commons. “It can be overwhelming,” says our 22-year-old transfer student from City Colleges of Chicago.
Here’s her advice for future students:
Take care of yourself. “The hardest part is developing your own routine as you see fit and juggling college classes, self-care, homework and studying,” she says. “You’ll learn and grow each semester.”
Work, research, GRE prep, repeat.
That pretty much sums up Oriana Flores’ summer as she looks to wrap up her last semester as an undergraduate at NIU and pursue graduate school.
A Human Development and Sciences major, her research with Student Involvement and Leadership Development, as well as Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, have pointed her in the direction of a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs.
“I’m sacrificing a lot this summer to make sure that happens,” said Flores, a transfer student from City Colleges of Chicago and first-generation student. She’s had tremendous support from her parents along the way.
Still, balancing school and work, while still allowing some time for yourself, can be tricky. She relies on routine and her daily planner.
“If you don’t have drive, you won’t be able to do it,” said Flores, who has spent the summer working at a daycare, volunteering with America Reads and interning through Student Involvement and Leadership Development.
Through her internship, she’s spent hours researching homelessness on college campuses. A University Honors student, she intends to use the research for her capstone project and hopes her work one day will help homeless students at NIU and elsewhere.
Everyone should know they’re not alone and opportunities exist, she said.
“If I can do that for a student, I think I did my job,” she said.