Supporting students in graduate school is crucial to their success, especially for students of color. Vanessa Álvarez is helping create that supportive community at the University of Washington as a program officer in its Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program (GO-MAP) while also pursuing her master’s in Leadership in Higher Education.
As a first-generation college student from a migrant background, Álvarez recalls the uncertainty she had about choosing a career. Her parents were catalysts in ensuring she did well in school despite not having a set career plan. She graduated from Sunnyside High School in the Yakima Valley and after earning her bachelor’s degree from UW, Álvarez went on to work in an admissions role at UW Bothell.
“I was able to work with a lot of students who were in my similar position: they didn’t know the admissions process or what their options were,” she said. “Many had supportive families but they didn’t know how to navigate the education system. I fell in love [with the work] because it was an opportunity to give back, to share knowledge that I wish I had known when I was in their shoes.”
That experience led Álvarez to the UW College of Education’s master’s program, which she soon discovered was a perfect fit.
“I wanted to stay working in administration, and a lot of the coursework that they offered was really aligned with my interests,” she said. Her choice was reinforced by the colloquium-style courses offered in her first year at the College of Education, which allowed her to build community with peers in her cohort.
The mission of GO-MAP is to support graduate students of color across UW’s more than 100 graduate programs, providing them with resources and community that contribute to success in their graduate education. The program facilitates connections among graduate students and faculty across campus through activities such as “Power Hours,” lunchtime talks where faculty, staff and community members speak on a wide range of topics. GO-MAP also offers assistance to students in exploring careers both in and outside of academia.
“I work with students on a daily basis, so to take a student development course and be able to say, ‘This totally applies to this scenario today,’ it’s just really helpful to build confidence in what you do,” Álvarez said. “I’ve been able to apply everything that I have been learning in my classes to my daily job here at GO-MAP. “
Álvarez said GO-MAP students recognize the value of giving back to their communities and are influential as ambassadors for the next generation of graduate students of color. One day, Álvarez says, she hopes to work herself out of a job.
“My aspiration is that we would get to a point where we don’t need a GO-MAP,” she said, “because all students feel welcome and supported in all departments. That they would feel that sense of community everywhere.”
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications