As a high school senior, the idea of college seemed farfetched to first generation student Diana Tapia Alvarado.
Tapia Alvarado’s mom was a hard-working single parent working low-income jobs who dedicated every waking moment to paying bills and being a good mother. Despite that immense effort, the local food shelf was a staple for the family of five and at times the electricity would be off for weeks.
The idea of her mother paying for tuition and board was something that kept Tapia Alvarado awake at night. She even deliberately scored lower on her ACT test to make sure her mother didn’t feel bad if they couldn’t afford for Tapia Alvarado to get into her dream schools.
“I would spend late nights thinking about all of the work hours my mom would have to complete in order to pay for my room and board,” Tapia Alvarado said.
But Tapia Alvarado’s mom was determined and putting in the hard work wasn’t going to stop her.
While Tapia Alvarado took care of her three younger siblings, her mother worked an entire summer outside of her regular job to save up for college. At night, her mother would come home and spend hours researching affordable universities and would ask family members for donations.
“She did everything in her power to gather all of the money I needed for my first year,” Tapia Alvarado said. “Two weeks prior to the academic start date, my mother had saved up enough money for my tuition.”
Tapia Alvarado certainly wasn’t going to allow that dedication to go to waste.
“I want to work with vulnerable youth groups so I can provide a safe space to help them get their foot out the door toward a good future by showing them that there is so much greater out there than what their lived experiences have shown them.”
Coming in armed with the determination her mother showed through example, Tapia Alvarado has worked her way through college, will graduate with a double major in Social Work and Spanish, was captain of the Women’s Rugby Team her junior year, and is currently the president of the Student Organization of Latina/o/x which unites Spanish-speaking students together.
“My mom is always a constant reminder to be the best that I can be because she’s sacrificed so much to give me the best chances she could,” Tapia Alvarado said. “I’ve tried to really apply myself and get involved in the best way I can.”
Tapia Alvarado chose social work as a focus because she believes wholeheartedly that social workers are humanitarians who help meet the needs of vulnerable populations by helping provide equity and social justice.
Everything that she’s done during her time at WSU in some way revolves around that belief.
Tapia Alvarado is doing an internship for the Food as Medicine study at Winona Health which assesses the impact of healthy foods on adults who are diabetic. It’s a community-based pilot that measures the effectiveness of nutrition intervention to improve food choices as a way to lower blood sugars.
And for her capstone she studied the Social Determinants of Health in rural settings which she explained take into account the different social challenges a person goes through that aren’t seen during a doctor’s visit by a healthcare professional, like equity, transportation, and education.
During her free time Tapia Alvarado, she dedicated to social justice initiatives or equity projects like moderating a safe space for discussion of the Chauvin Trial or helping welcome a Honduras refugee family that recently moved to town.
“Diana is a fighter for advocacy,” Social Work Professor Ruth Charles said. “Diana cannot be quiet when there is an injustice.”
What drives Tapia Alvarado forward is the idea of helping youth who have had challenging lives. She wants to work in school settings in low-income areas where children need upliftment from someone who understands their journey – whether it’s food insecurities, housing insecurities, language barriers, or not having new clothes.
“I want to work with vulnerable youth groups so I can provide a safe space to help them get their foot out the door toward a good future by showing them that there is so much greater out there than what their lived experiences have shown them,” Tapia Alvarado said.
Her mom, Sacramento Alvarado-Klimek, has no doubt she will do all those things.
“She will do great things advocating, fighting for injustices, and helping those who are in need,” Alvarado-Klimek said through translation. “Diana is an example to follow, she never walks on a path that is already built, (instead) she will go where there is no path and leave a trail for the rest.”
But first, she’s going to take a moment to rest. After graduation, Tapia Alvarado plans to stay in Winona until her partner finishes her internship and will take time to slow down.
“Just focus on myself,” Tapia Alvarado said happily.
She’s proud of the effort she’s put in, not only in education, but also in her personal growth and commitment to living her authentic self in embracing her passions and homosexuality.
“The Diana of freshman year would be so happy to meet the Diana of senior year,” Tapia Alvarado said. “I am full of life and just happy.”