During Maria Bonilla’s high school years at Horizon Science Academy in Lorain, her dream of earning a college degree seemed very far away.
“My parents had a mindset that their kids wouldn’t go to college,” Bonilla says. “How was I going to get there? I had to set up a PowerPoint presentation to convince my dad.”
Bonilla didn’t have a car or a driver’s license. What she did have, however, was a determination to keep her dreams alive and an opportunity just around the corner.
Making a connection
After graduating from Horizon in May 2016, Bonilla enrolled at Lorain County Community College’s Lorain Learning Center at City Center, which brings educational opportunities to downtown Lorain residents who might not be able to attend LCCC’s main campus in Elyria. That access was critical for Bonilla, who often walked to classes.
But as a first-generation college student, getting there was just the first step.
“There was a lot of pressure,” she says. “I felt like I was in this by myself for a while.”
That changed when she met Cynthia Arredondo, an adviser for LCCC’s Students Accelerating in Learning (SAIL) program. SAIL helps first-generation college students graduate with an associate degree within three years, and nearly half of the students participating in the program are from Lorain.
The program’s greatest benefit — in addition to tuition assistance and textbook vouchers — is connecting with advisers like Arredondo.
“Going in, I was lost about what direction to go,” Bonilla says. “Cynthia went out of her way to help me.”
Bonilla faced a number of challenges, but with Arredondo’s advice and guidance, she was determined to keep going.
“Maria has gained more confidence in herself, not only in college, but in life,” Arredondo says.
Bonilla has finished her classes at the center and is continuing her studies online. She’s on track to graduate in spring 2019 with an associate of applied business degree in entrepreneurship, with plans to continue her education through LCCC’s University Partnership program to study psychology or entrepreneurship. One day Bonilla hopes to put her entrepreneurial studies to work and launch an online clothing company.
Even though she has completed all the classes she could at the center, Bonilla is still a regular presence there, now as an employee. While she started her journey with no expectation of attending college, she is now nearing graduation, and as a student assistant, she is helping others navigate LCCC’s online learning management system, answering questions and making appointments.
Maria credits the Lorain Learning Center as a place that helped spark her growth and gain confidence in herself and her ability to succeed.
“LCCC gave me the opportunity to work toward something I really want to do,” she says. “I’ve gained so much, and now I’m helping others achieve the same success.”