Graduates Headed to University of Pittsburgh to Make a Difference for Students

Graduates Juliana Ayala and Allen Williams, May 2018

By Marji Datwyler, MEd, Assistant Director & Avanzando Program Lead

Juliana Ayala and Allen Williams did not start out on a career path to higher education. Yet both of these 2018 UMKC graduates will be attending the University of Pittsburgh this fall to pursue master’s degrees in higher education management.  Why? Because they want to give back and support other first generation, ethnic minority students succeed in college much in the way UMKC has supported them.

As first-generation college students, the path was not easy for Juliana and Allen.  Being connected to the right resources and getting involved on campus made all the difference in their college experience.  Juliana became part of the Avanzando Program as a Hispanic Development Fund Scholarship recipient when she transferred to UMKC from Kansas City Kansas Community College.  Avanzando, a partnership with the Greater Kansas City Hispanic Development Fund, is designed to support Latinx student success through mentoring and increased access to campus and community resources. Juliana also found support in the Latinx and Latin American Studies Program and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

Allen Williams first arrived on the UMKC campus to participate in Summer Bridge, a 6-week program to help incoming first-year students transition more smoothly from high school to college.  A native of St. Louis, Allen found himself unsure of whether or not college was the place for him. Fortunately, the Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) Office provided him a safe space wherein he could find support and thrive. Allen participated in the MSA Show Me Success program, which provides individualized academic check-ins and connections to resources.

Both Juliana & Allen attribute their involvement in student organizations as key in helping them feel a sense of campus belonging, a key element in student retention.  This involvement also helped them gain important leadership skills.  Juliana took on leadership roles in the Association of Latin American Students, Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society, and the Union Programming Board.  Allen served as a leader in the Student Government Association, The African American Student Union, and in Men of Color Campus Initiative.  In these roles, Juliana and Allen found themselves assisting and coaching other students and, as a result, discovered their career calling.

Both graduates received scholarships to attend the University of Pittsburgh, a top-ranked graduate program in higher education.  Juliana will serve as the Graduate Intern for a new program titled ReStart, which will serve first generation/underrepresented students at Carnegie Mellon.  Allen will be interning this summer at the University of Pittsburgh Conference and Events Office and in the fall with the Carnegie Mellon University Health Promotion Program. “We are very proud of Allen and Juliana,” states Keichanda Dees Burnett, Director of MSA. “Their passion and competencies around identity and multicultural awareness give me confidence that they will impact the success of hundreds of first-generation and underrepresented students.”