Laura Yanez

Laura Yanez

Student Body President and Jumpstart Scholarship Recipient

Passion and perseverance. These qualities have pulled Laura Yanez through tough times.

Shortly after emigrating with her family from Colombia to the United States in 2008, Yanez realized she was depressed.

“I didn’t have goals and I didn’t have dreams,” said Yanez. “I had culture shock. Everything was different to me. I didn’t know any English. Not being able to communicate was really frustrating.”

Even though she came here with her family, she felt very much alone.

“My family was all doing their own thing. I was 21, so I was too old to go to high school,” said Yanez. In 2009, she enrolled at Highline College to learn English.

“At that time I was focusing on working and making money because that was my American dream,” said Yanez. “In my country, that is what most people think: Go to America to make money and work. So I worked and went to my English classes, but I didn’t think higher education would be a possibility for someone like me because I wasn’t even that good of a student in my country.”

Ask any new arrival to the U.S. and you will hear the same story: Learning English is tough. Yanez spent more than four years in English as a Second Language (ESL) courses. She spent seven quarters in Level 3 alone, but persevered.

“One of my instructors told me, ‘You cannot be an ESL student forever,’ and that sentence got stuck in my mind. I considered myself a failure. I was tired of my life and decided to change. I knew that education would give me the opportunity to be someone. But I didn’t think college was for me, especially because of the expense.”

With encouragement from ESL instructor Nicole Scoggins, Yanez applied for the Jumpstart Scholarship program, which helps ESL students transition to college. Through the program, an ESL student attends one quarter of pre-college classes in English and reading free of charge.

“The financial support is critical for staying in school. When I was in my ESL classes, I knew that if I was going to go to college, I would have to stop working. And that would mean I wouldn’t have any income for school. Jumpstart helped me believe that higher education would be possible for me.”

Jumpstart also pairs the developmental classes with a support seminar taught by Highline ESL faculty member Bevin Taylor, who is one of the co-founders of the Jumpstart program.

“The support class is to make sure the students are understanding the homework and the assignments. It helps keep you on track,” said Yanez, who made the transition to college-level classes in the summer of 2013. “I had lacked confidence in myself, but Bevin Taylor and other instructors encouraged me. Their support was really powerful for me.”

While an ESL student, Yanez had joined a club for Latino students. Once she made the transition to credit classes, it did not take long for her to become even more involved. She had found her passion.

“I started getting involved with different clubs on campus such as Snowboarding, Cultural Exchange, and Graphic Design. And I started working at the Transition Center mentoring other ESL and ABE [Adult Basic Education] students to pursue higher education,” said Yanez. “My most rewarding experience was when I met a student in the hallway of Building 30, and she told me that my story encouraged her to enroll in credit classes. After that, I felt motivated not only to keep giving speeches in ESL classrooms, but also to start the ESL club and volunteer my time to make a difference in the lives of others. I share information with students, such as how to get into college, the opportunities for funding and scholarships for immigrants.”

Through these campus experiences, Yanez was shaping her leadership skills and supporting others while also continuing to find support for her own studies. She takes advantage of many of the academic resources and support programs available on campus, such as the TRiO program, Honors program and Writing Center.

“I know I’m not alone here at Highline. The faculty and staff are very supportive,” said Yanez. “My first quarter as a college student, I was amazed by how passionate my instructors were and the time they invested in us. And I was amazed at the diversity of students and the small class sizes. I feel like I fit here because I have classmates with different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different ages. I really like it.”

Her perseverance through years of ESL classes has paid off. She is thriving in her classes, earning top grades and scholarships to help fund her education. During her first year taking college courses, Yanez earned the Eena Hibbs and the Transforming Lives scholarships, each coming with a $500 award.

This year she was named one of Highline’s two 2015 All-Washington Academic Team members and earned a $250 scholarship. At the All-Washington ceremony, Yanez was further recognized with two additional awards. She was selected as a 2015 Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team Gold Scholar — one of only 50 students nationwide to earn the honor — which came with a $1,500 scholarship. She also received a $1,000 scholarship from the Washington Trustee Association of Community and Technical Colleges, which is given to the second-, third- and fourth-ranked members of the All-Washington Team.

While devoted to her studies, she still volunteers a significant amount of her time as the student body president of Highline, where she represents approximately 16,500 students.

“At Highline, I’ve developed strong leadership skills and learned to interact with a wide variety of people of different ethnicities. My passion for helping, encouraging and motivating students in non-credit classes — like ESL and ABE — motivated me to help students on a large scale at Highline as ASHC (Associated Students of Highline College) president. It’s part of my personality to go for it all. When I’m willing to do something, I work hard to make it happen.”

Yanez agrees that perseverance is one of her best qualities. “And passion,” said Yanez. “I really have passion for what I do.”

Now at 26, the Federal Way resident is close to earning her associate degree and will transfer to the University of Washington to major in social work.

“Thanks to the support of people at Highline, I’m able to attend college, impact others and someday make a difference in the world,” said Yanez. “I’m planning to stay in the U.S. I would love to someday come back and work at Highline. I would really like to do that.”