Alumni Spotlight: North Central Grad Helps Others Transition to College

Mayra ValleMayra Valle graduated from YES Prep North Central in 2010 and from Connecticut College in 2014. In college, Mayra double-majored in Dance and Latin American Studies and earned a certificate in the Center for International Studies of the Liberal Arts. She then obtained a Master’s degree in Performance Studies from Texas A&M, studying Latin dances as a form a historical archive and political resistance. She now works as a trainer for the Posse Foundation in Houston.

Were you a Posse scholar when you were in college?

Sadly no, Posse didn’t open a Houston office until 2012, so I could not be part of it as a high school senior. I actually found out about Posse at Connecticut College because it is a Posse Chicago partner institution. At the time, I was visiting Connecticut College before making my final college choice. I accidentally boarded the wrong bus in the airport in Providence. To my surprise, I was in a shuttle with ten Posse Scholars who were also on their fly-in from Chicago. They completely took me in and told me all about the Posse program. After a weekend of spending time with them, my fear of going to college alone went away. I ultimately made the decision to attend Connecticut College because I knew posse members would not let me fall, fail, or quit.

What was your path to becoming a trainer for Posse?

When I look back at my college experience, I can only describe it with one word: enlightening. In the classroom, I was incredibly intimidated by the comments of my peers. I felt completely out of place and undeserving of the opportunity to attend these institutions of higher learning. I began exploring myself and my own identity to help me process. I spent time at Unity House and the Woman’s Center to explore topics of race, gender, class, and intersectional identities. I was beginning to relearn who I was. In doing so, I connected to a legacy of strength and a history of power. I became more confident and knew I was worthy of this experience. Although I was blessed to have the multilayered support that helped me grow into the woman I am, very few students who looked like me had that. Every student has potential, but some feel like outsiders in the very spaces where they seek empowerment. I wanted to work for an organization that addressed that gap and tackled the problem head on. I also wanted to work with students directly as they made the transition to college.

What do you want to do in the future?

I would like to continue my education and earn a PhD in Ethnic Studies or Higher Education. My dream is to be the Dean of Multicultural Affairs or Multicultural Student Services at the university level.

Let’s jump back in time to your experiences at YES. Why did your family choose to send you to YES Prep?

One of my family friends (who I call my cousin) went to YES Prep Southeast, and talked about YES Prep being my ticket to college. To be honest, I hadn’t seriously thought about going to college before that point. We approached YES Prep with skepticism since it was temporarily located in a church near the neighborhood YMCA. I didn’t want to go, but my mom advised me to give the summer program a try. She promised that I didn’t have to go back if I didn’t like it. During those few weeks, I was challenged a lot– in ways I hadn’t been at other schools. I also made great friends, so I decided to stay. At that moment, my mom knew I had made the first life-altering decision that would create ripples of opportunity in my life. YES believed that anyone could be successful and do amazing things if given the proper resources. It was a huge eye-opener for me to see that college was a possibility for me. It made college the standard and the expectation for me.

What is a lesson you carry with you from your time at YES Prep?

When I was at YES Prep, there was a lot of rhetoric about how we were academically “playing catch-up.” However, when I was selected to be an Admissions Fellow, I began to question that notion completely. Yes, other students came to college with more information under their belts, but not with more grit. During my first year of college, classes were difficult, but I knew how to access resources. I knew how to recognize my deficits and address them by reaching out professors and other students for help. I knew that I could not quit. I knew that I was not defined by these moments of small failures, but by how quickly I picked myself up to keep trying. Without telling me, YES had taught me so much about myself and what I was capable of.

What’s one of your favorite YES Prep memories?

The first event that always comes to mind is Senior Signing Day. YES Prep was growing so much when the class of 2010 was getting ready to announce the schools we had selected. There were a lot of students from different campuses and class years cheering us on. I’d been one of those kids, and I used to think I wouldn’t make it to celebrate that day. I’d thought, ‘there’s so much homework; how will I do it all without burning out by then?’ I remember smiling at the members of my class as we looked at everyone in the audience. Everything we had been working towards became a reality that day. The idea of going to college was no longer an abstract pipedream. By being on that stage, we were telling all those kids not to have doubts. We were proving that college was possible. There are so many kids that won’t get to be on a stage like this– not because they’re not smart enough, but because no one ever gave them the chance.


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