Get to know Michelle P., one of Access Opportunity's Student Ambassadors for the 2022-23 school year.
Michelle is a senior at Washington University in St. Louis studying Neuroscience. She will graduate next Spring, and therefore is entering her last year in Access Opportunity as a member of the Class of 2023. Throughout the year, we will get to know her better through her stories, experiences, and advice for her fellow AO students.
In Her Own Words
My name is Michelle Perez, and I am currently going into my senior year at Washington University in St. Louis as a Biology: Neuroscience major. I am a first-generation Latine student who believes everyone should have equal opportunity for the education they deserve. This summer, I am studying for the MCAT and conducting research in a lab at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. Once my undergrad ends, I plan on taking a gap year, so that I can properly apply to medical school and work in a hospital for a bit. I want to take this gap year in order to ensure that I can be well-rounded in my applications. I plan on taking that gap year to also travel and do things that I have not been able to do because of school.
In my free time, I enjoy going on hikes, boxing, and trying new places to eat. I love trying new cuisine from different countries and am incredibly open-minded to anything. Further, I am an incredibly social person, and I love meeting and networking with new people. It's super exciting to me when I meet other people and can connect.
AO: While the past year has been rejuvenating in many ways, it has also been hard and tiring in other ways. How are you doing? Is there a time you experienced hardship in the past year and what helped you manage it or overcome it?
Michelle: Over the past year, I experienced Imposter Syndrome and felt like I didn't fit into my institution. For many years I have felt like WashU only accepted me in order to fit their diversity and inclusion quota. I wondered if I was actually there because I deserved my place or because they felt they needed more Latine students at the institution. Being at WashU was the first time I ever experienced failing an exam and getting below an A in a class. It felt like I wasn't smart enough to be there. My Imposter Syndrome settled a bit after my freshman year, during the COVID semesters. However, going back in person this past year was incredibly hard. I had the worst semester I have ever had, and it made me feel like I wasn't good enough. Going from taking exams that were open notes to having to take exams in person and actually building a study schedule was the hardest thing to adjust to. When the semester was over I felt ashamed and defeated. I finally realized that everyone else was going through the same thing I was and no one ended up with the grades they wanted. It was the solidarity from others that got me through the second phase of my imposter syndrome.
AO: What is the first time you thought about going to college? What was the most influential factor in your decision to attend college?
Michelle: As soon as I knew what college even was in middle school, I started thinking of my future. We used to yell, in response to "when do we graduate college", "2023" and here I am about 10 years later about to graduate college in 2023.
Since I was little my parents have always pushed me to go to school and eventually go to college, but they have also given me the choice to simply just work if I wanted to. I have always had a passion for becoming a doctor and, of course, to become a doctor you have to go to school. I think this was the influential factor in wanting to go to college instead of just working. I have always felt passionate about giving back to the community by doing something that I will be good at and will benefit everyone. There are so many people that pursue a career because of the money, but I believe that I am pursuing this career because I genuinely want to help people. Eventually, I want to build a clinic around the idea that everyone has access to equal healthcare even if it means having to earn less money or not making anything at all for a while.
AO: What have you experienced as a first-gen or underrepresented student at your school? What advice might you give to other students in a similar situation?
Michelle: I mostly faced financial challenges and having to work multiple jobs while still balancing my schedule and having time to study and do well in school. Most of us at AO are low-income, minority students, and most have to work multiple jobs. It has been hard to do, but asking for help is the best way to get through financial strain. AO has been there for me and so has my financial aid office. If I need advanced pay or an increase in pay, I just ask people around me to help with this. As for managing my time, sometimes it's okay to ask people to give you space to work on things and to be flexible. People understand you're a student and have other things to do. The moral is, in college, do not be afraid to ask for help and ask people to move things around for you because the chances are that people are always willing to help and be understanding.
AO: Are you involved in any clubs/groups at your school?
Michelle: I am currently part of and president of a Latine, co-ed Greek organization on campus. There aren't many Latine students at my institution and at first, it was incredibly draining attempting to find a community that I felt uniquely part of. It wasn't until I met someone at WashU who was part of the organization that I knew I would find a place I could call my "home away from home." As president, I have been trying to build an inclusive community where people could feel like they belong. It is important for me to completely increase the face of the Latine community on campus before I graduate. I want to be able to leave a legacy behind that others can continue beyond me. I haven't really joined any other clubs because this one takes up the majority of my time, but I also get involved with ALAS, the Association of Latin American Students for the same reasons.
Stay tuned for more of Michelle's stories throughout the year!