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Diverse women students at the Community College of Philadelphia detailing their personal and academic challenges. Photo: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News
Diverse women students at the Community College of Philadelphia detailing their personal and academic challenges. Photo: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News

Diverse women students turning lemons to lemonade

The women at the Community College of Philadelphia show great resilience in balancing their personal and academic lives.

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Whether you’re a traditional student, a non-traditional student, an international student, first-generation student or maybe a student-parent, it can be difficult balancing external life components with being in college. The diverse women students at the Community College of Philadelphia can attest to these very things.

On Thursday, Mar. 21, three current students at CCP — Melissa Aponte, Neary Narom, and Tea Voka — all shared their respective experiences, challenges, and lessons learned as students during a program titled, “Diversity Dialogue: Turning Lemons to Lemonade: Strategies for Diverse Women Students.”

For Voka, being an immigrant student from Albania came with some built-in challenges due to the major differences in the education systems in the U.S. and Albania.

She highlighted how she “had to adjust to a new life” in both coming to America, and also starting college. She admits that reading her textbooks and completing assignments were sometimes a struggle due to a language barrier.

However, she thinks very highly of the experiences she’s had since becoming a student at CCP in Fall 2018.

“I’m glad CCP was here because I found so many good teachers that understand me and help me with the classes,” she said.

As a mother of a two-year-old son, Aponte spent her first three semesters at CCP as an online student. Being a student-parent presented many challenges and some unpredictability for her, both while she was an online student, and now as she takes classes on campus.

She credited the various resources available at the Community College of Philadelphia, such as the Women’s Outreach and Advocacy Center, KEYS, and Single Stop for helping her both as a student and a mother.

“If it wasn’t for programs like the Women’s Advocacy Center or Single Stop and the KEYS Program, it would’ve made my struggles that much [more] amplified,” Aponte said. Those programs provided resources that helped Aponte make sure she could pursue her academic goals, while ensuring her son was also cared for.

For Narom, growing up without a mother made things difficult just for the simple fact that she didn’t have a prominent womanly figure in here life. That created a mission for her to go out and figure things out on her own.

As a college student, that mission is still alive. As a piece of advice, Narom would say never let yourself get caught in a cycle of overthinking. Despite any problems she may be facing, Narom continues to push herself to move forward.

Video by Sandra Rodriguez/AL DÍA News

All three students agreed that the best way to succeed as a woman student would be to network and connect with other diverse students. That effort is one that requires collaboration between both faculty and students.

“Just finding ways to promote student engagement and uplifting student voices on what is happening around campus is something that we would need more support in,” said Narom.

For Aponte, she hopes to help strengthen and promote the existing resources available on campus to help her fellow women and parent students, and eradicate the feeling of having to choose between academic and career goals or family life.

“I feel like we ought to continue to help people in anyway that we can,” she said. “We need to not use our life circumstances as stepbacks, but as the strength of unforeseen circumstances."

"Basically what I’m saying is if you work hard for something, you appreciate it more," she added.

The students also agreed that more women leaders on- and off-campus would go a long way in empowering more women as students.  

“It starts from us,” said Voka. “We, as women, we have to help each other first.”

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