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National organization helps first-generation Latinx business students connect, network at Bradley University

Hannah Alani
From left to right, Bradley University business students Daniela Olmos, Nadia Ramirez, Merari Velazquez, Jocelyn Avalos and Naomi Barranco. All are members of the Bradley student chapter of the Association for Latino Professionals of America (ALPFA).

Naomi Barranco is a junior studying international business and marketing at Bradley University.

She’s from McHenry, Illinois, and she's the first person in her family to go to college.

She's also a first-generation American; her father is from Mexico, and her mother is from Honduras. Like many first-generation college students, Naomi’s college experience has come with an added layer of stress.

“I do have those high expectations, especially since I feel like I have to set that image for like my younger siblings, my younger cousins and stuff like that,” she said. “And since I haven't been through this type of experience before, it's really difficult to navigate it. … And it’s intimidating.”

But shortly after arriving in Peoria, Barranco discovered Bradley’s student chapter of the Association of Latino Professionals of America – a national professional development and networking organization.

Through regular ALPFA meetings, Barranco said she’s improved her leadership skills while learning how to network. A natural introvert, she’s no longer afraid of public speaking.

Now, Barranco is the chapter’s external vice president – and she’s leading an effort to send herself and other students to ALPFA’s annual summer convention in Orlando, Florida.

Though a GoFundMe Fundraiser, Bradley ALPFAs aim to raise at least $1,000 – enough to cover each member’s $250 conference ticket, plus hotels and transportation.

For many, the experience could be life changing, Barranco said.

“For most first-generation, our dream, our expectation, is to get a job right after college,” she said. “My goal is … to go and look for a company that I really want to work with, and maybe get an internship. Get a job, secure that job for after college, so I can achieve that goal, and then just go right into life and fulfill that goal that I've had since elementary school.”

Jocelyn Avalos is a sophomore studying marketing. She’s also a first-generation college student and a member of Bradley’s ALPFA chapter’s exec board.

For Avalos, the first two years of college were heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of that, she said, ALPFA has made a big difference in her life.

“A lot of us are first generation students, and being in the business world … you need connections everywhere, connections are key,” she said. “This organization helps us connect with professional organizations, jobs, companies … helps us find internships. As well as professional development, like helping us with our resumes, interviewing skills, and just anything that could help us.”

While being a first-generation college student has its challenges, Barranco said she’s grateful in that she’s been able to approach the college experience with fresh eyes.

“It really kind of elevates us, because we have to learn these things here on our own, as individuals, by ourselves,” she said.

Whether it’s hanging out in Peoria or spending time in Florida, Barranco’s experiences are always shared with her parents.

“Sometimes people don't feel like maybe Latino enough, or don't feel American enough. And we're kind of just mingling in the middle,” she said. “But … that helps us really just enjoy each side even more. It's really nice that I come here … I didn't know all these customs. And I can teach my parents about them, just as they teach me their traditions, their practices and everything like that.”

Learn more about the Bradley ALPFAs here. Follow the group on Instagram. Donate to the group’s summer convention fundraiser here.

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