Alumni Profile: 2016 Cooke Scholar never thought she'd win until she tried

Thursday, October 19, 2017
Written by: Lauren Leetun for Seminole State

For Seminole State College of Florida alumna Tatiana Calvo, life has come full-circle. Since immigrating to the United States in 2001 from Colombia, Calvo now finds herself at a very different Columbia… the university located in New York City. And it certainly wasn’t an easy road to get there.

The 27-year-old has seen her fair share of dark days. After graduating from high school in South Florida, Calvo moved to the Orlando area looking for a higher education institution that would accept her to a degree program despite being an undocumented immigrant at the time. In 2014, Calvo started at Seminole State in pursuit of her associate degree. Only two years later, while working in retail and restaurant jobs to cover the costs of her education, she graduated with her Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree with a focus in political science. Most of her family was not even in the United States to see that amazing moment, having been deported back to Colombia years before.

As she was preparing to graduate, a professor encouraged her to apply for a Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, an important step in her education that she almost didn’t pursue. Thanks to Dr. Travis Suits – the advisor of the Pi Lambda chapter of Phi Theta Kappa at Seminole State – and his eavesdropping on a conversation between Calvo and another student, he heard her exasperation as she described being too busy to apply for a scholarship that she thought she had very little chance of receiving.

“He encouraged me to consider my chances of winning the lottery if I never buy a ticket,” Calvo said. “Similarly, I have no chance of being selected for a scholarship I never apply for. Maybe the chances are slim, but they’re greater than zero.”

In her application for the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, Calvo made the very difficult decision to open up about something that she’d purposely kept hidden for so long: her status as an undocumented immigrant. While that has since changed, she said it was difficult to be so open about the hardships she faced while trying to pursue her degree. Yet it was that willingness to open up about her struggles – as well as her exemplary academic success – that eventually landed her the scholarship.

“At Seminole State College, you’re not just a number or a walking GPA. You’re treated with respect, and you are welcomed into a family that wants to do everything they can to help you succeed.”  
                                                                             - Tatiana Calvo

A year later, she is in her second year at Columbia University, where she’s thriving and has her sights set on pursuing a law degree. And what does she dream of doing with that degree? She’d like to help other immigrants obtain entry to the United States. In fact, this summer, she completed an internship at the Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka, the very organization that helped her obtain her associate degree at Seminole State.

While at Seminole State, Calvo was a student in the College’s Grindle Honors Institute, which she describes as the family environment she really wanted and needed while putting herself though school. In fact, when asked about what she thinks was the greatest contributing factor to her success at both Seminole State and Columbia University, she smiles as she speaks about the self-assurance that the program provided her.

“At Seminole State College, you’re not just a number or a walking GPA. You’re treated with respect, and you are welcomed into a family that wants to do everything they can to help you succeed,” she said. “That environment helped to build up my self-esteem, which I still hark back to whenever I’m feeling discouraged or need a boost.” 

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Since 1966, Seminole State College of Florida has awarded more than 100,000 degrees and certificates. The Alumni Association provides benefits and services for all alumni as they continue their lifelong connection with Seminole State College of Florida. It also provides opportunities for alumni to network with one another, interact with the student body and support the College.

Whether you've earned a degree or a certificate, or enrolled in just one course, you're a Seminole State alumnus, and we want you to enjoy the benefits of maintaining a relationship with the College. The Alumni Association is here to help you stay connected to Seminole State through various platforms and initiatives.

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