Vanessa Chavez Jurado, an Elementary Education major at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), is a leader active in addressing issues of access and equity across campus. A first-generation college student, Ms. Chavez Jurado, wanted to ensure that students like her had the support needed to be successful in college. Along with another student, she started Forward First, a newly established student organization that provides support for first-generation college students and emphasizes campus engagement, professional development, and community engagement. Understanding how difficult it is to successfully balance academics success and genuine and sustained community involvement fueled the development of Forward First. This commitment to service has also been instrumental to our campus as she has advocated for the needs of our student body as they navigate their academic and personal lives during a global pandemic. Her leadership can also be seen in her efforts to help create the position of Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) so that there was a vehicle at UNO to amplify voices such as indigenous students on campus who typically feel marginalized. These efforts led to the creation of an indigenous student working group that now meets with members of the university administration.
My interest in social issues did not start with one defining moment, rather it is a compilation of experiences that have led me to where I am today. My involvement in the high school newspaper helped me learn the importance of sharing my story as a woman of color growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood. Going into college as a first-generation student with strong support systems, I knew I only wanted to continue being an active voice helping elevate social issues. After joining Student Government, I wanted to highlight the need for additional support for students studying for the College of Education entrance exam. Since then, I have gone on to serve as the student body Vice President and have worked with members of University administration to discuss how to best support the needs of students during a pandemic. In addition to this I, along with a classmate, have established a student led support system for first generation college students and provide ways to further develop in the areas relating to campus engagement, community engagement and professional development. As I look to further engage in community wide issues, I know these experiences have well prepared me for future advocacy.