If there’s anything Ester Serrano knows for certain, it’s that starting and staying in college isn’t easy. It’s often plagued with self-doubt and struggles to keep going. But, sometimes, you simply need to find the right fit and hear the right words to motivate you.
She’s already achieved her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education* at the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC), and she’s now working toward her master’s degree with plans to use her unique set of experiences to help others.
Lost and Found in Translation
When Ester Serrano started school in the United States as a child, she had lived the majority of her life in Mexico, so she had to learn English and adapt to her new home.
“I started talking when I was 2 years old,” she says. “I started talking in Spanish, and I didn’t know any English.”
Ester enrolled in pre-kindergarten as a Spanish-speaking young student, and it was a struggle. Her teachers lacked the resources to support her language learning, so she had to rely on her own determination and outside resources to reach necessary milestones.
“Rather than working with me, it was easier for them to say I needed to repeat the grade because I couldn’t read or write perfectly,” she recalls.
So, Ester’s family hired a private tutor to assist her in learning English and meeting the requirements to advance.
“I worked twice as hard and was able to move on to the next grade,” she states.
When Ester transitioned to middle school, she found herself at a school with more resources to help her improve her language skills, so much so that by the time she got to high school, she was more fluent in English than she was in Spanish.
As new doors began to open for her, she started to love school. She joined clubs, made friends, and soon, Ester found herself with a passion and a gift for the more universal language of music.
“I got into orchestra, I learned the violin,” she describes. “I was in the chamber orchestra in high school, which you have to audition for. I was also in the Utah Junior Youth Symphony. It was me and one or two other students who were nominated by the teacher.”
It’s Only Temporary
When Ester graduated from high school, she enrolled at a local community college. She worked full time and went to school full time, which she quickly learned was difficult to manage. In addition, a bad relationship led her to doubt herself and the benefits an education could provide for her.
“I really wanted to get out of that relationship,” she admits. “So, I decided to focus on working to prove that I didn’t have to rely on anybody.”
After leaving her relationship, Ester did eventually return to school – this time in Puerto Rico where her brother was already attending school.
“It was a university that was aligned with my religion, and it was a little cheaper,” she describes. “Then the pandemic hit.”
The university she attended transitioned to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it proved to be difficult to communicate via long-distance with her university.
Her frustration grew, and again, she wanted to quit. Then, she received a simple, but impactful reminder from her father. “It’s only temporary,” he told her.
The stress and sacrifice it took to get her degree would not last forever. It was the advice she needed as she planned to continue attending college online through the university she had attended in Puerto Rico.
Then, they changed plans. Shortly before school started, Ester received word that she was expected to report in-person to campus to attend her classes rather than continue attending online as she planned. Since the transition to online learning, she had started working and gotten engaged. Traveling back to Puerto Rico was simply not feasible in the midst of planning a wedding. Once again, she found herself dropping out of school.
The Right Fit
With her dad’s advice still in her mind, she began searching for other options that would allow her to continue the life she had established at home while also working toward her degree.
“I think it was two or three weeks after I decided I wasn’t going back that I found UAGC,” she says. After she spoke with an enrollment advisor, who Ester says explained everything about the program and really motivated her to start, she enrolled and started her journey.
Though, Ester admits she was afraid to tell her dad about yet another attempt at completing school after deciding not to return to school in Puerto Rico.
“I showed him the website and the program,” she says. “He said, ‘As long as you’re following your dreams, you have my full support.’”
She says her parents were there every step of the way.
Now came the real challenge – finishing. And it wasn’t easy.
“Finding the motivation was always tough for me,” she admits. “When I got married last June, I was stressed with wedding planning, school, work, and the idea of starting a new life with my husband. It was too much for me all at once, but I found the strength I needed to keep going.”
In part, it was thanks to her new husband that she continued. Ester says he has put some of his own goals aside to support her in accomplishing her own. He is even thinking about continuing his education.
In March, Ester celebrated completing her bachelor’s degree by attending the UAGC Spring commencement 2023 in Arizona.
“It was a lot, everyone was so friendly,” she smiles. “I think the main part was just walking across the stage and being so proud of myself because I convinced myself so many times that I wasn’t able to finish, and I proved myself wrong.”
When she attended commencement, her parents, her new husband, and so many more traveled to Arizona to celebrate with her.
“At my graduation, my dad was there, and I was able to say, ‘I’m here because of you,’” she beams.
Ester wasted no time setting her sights even higher and enrolling in the MA in Early Childhood Education Leadership* program after completing her bachelor’s degree.
Since starting her master’s degree, she has begun a new job as an office manager at a local counseling center, supporting the staff and their clients. But her big goal is to become a child life specialist, combining the skills she has gained in her degree programs with a brief history in the health care field to support and guide children and their families through sometimes serious medical challenges in hospitals.
And, she could even use her musical talents, which she has held onto even in adulthood, to provide comfort in the most difficult times.
As Ester works toward her next milestone and considers her future, she understands how challenging it can be to keep going, and she wants others to know they can accomplish their goals, too.
“I want to be the voice of motivation to those who can’t hear their own voice,” she says. “I came from parents who migrated to the USA to offer my siblings and me a better future. They worked morning, noon, and night to be able to provide for us. I want my parents to be able to look at this and be able to know that I am here because of them.”
Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.
*An online degree from the University of Arizona Global Campus does not lead to immediate teacher licensure in any state.