Creating Community Student to Student

Image by Barb McBreen

Paulina Padrón’s journey to Iowa State started more than 2,000 miles away, in her home in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She built herself a new community at Iowa State through her service to others.

She was inspired to take the first step after researching undergrad institutions, and learning about Iowa State’s reputation for excellence in animal science and veterinary medicine.

Earning a George Washington Carver scholarship with its full tuition made the choice easy. Padrón was one of 100 U.S. ethnic minority freshmen selected for the scholarship program based on her class rank, grade point and entrance exam scores.

“I’m just thankful for the opportunity,” she says. “My parents always instilled in me a deep desire for education, and understanding what a privilege it is to be educated.”

Being so far from home and speaking English as her second language gave Padrón empathy for those who might be homesick or overwhelmed at Iowa State. The senior in animal science used her experiences and her empathy to help her fellow students.

As a peer mentor during her freshmen year, she helped first-year students with 100-level orientation courses, showing them the ropes and working through four-year plans.

“You just want to help them succeed, which is the goal of the orientation classes, but also the goal of the peer mentors,” she says.

In her second year, Padrón asked to mentor other multicultural students.

“As someone who went through it, I thought it might be more helpful for them to have me as a peer mentor,” she says.

Padrón helped more students feel at home during her junior and senior years as a resident hall community adviser in Maple Hall and the Frederiksen Court Apartments. She worked with staff and other advisers to build an inclusive and supportive student community by providing resources and advice.

“Paulina helps students by being available to them to answer their questions or concerns,” says Dakota Simons, apartment community manager. “She’s well acquainted with resources and opportunities at Iowa State, and works to connect her fellow students with them.”

She also keeps in touch with other Puerto Rican students at Iowa State.

“When we get together and speak Spanish, it’s like being home again,” she says. “We like helping each other out in ways that culturally other people might not understand. We’re there for each other.”

Jodi Sterle, holder of the Eldred and Donna Harman Endowed Professorship in Animal Science Excellence in Teaching and Learning, says there is a pipeline of students from Puerto Rico, who are known for taking care of those new to the Iowa State community.

Padrón stood out when she was a student in Sterle’s intro class.

“She is a great ambassador for student recruiting and excelling,” Sterle says. “Paulina has been a leader.”

Padrón graduated magna cum laude in May. Her next stop is vet school at Tufts University.