As one of the youngest in the Wings program and a first-generation college student, psychology major Donna Bahena, ’18, has learned to appreciate her background and use her experiences as a stepping stone for success.
Since moving to Raleigh, N.C., from Acapulco, Mexico, at the age of seven, Donna has spent the last 18 years of her life learning to adapt to different cultures and to use that experience in a positive way.
“My background makes me strong. Growing up, I had to really step up and do a lot of things at home that my parents couldn’t do because they couldn’t speak English as well as I,” said Donna. “But living in one culture and moving to another has given me a more global perspective of the world.”
The challenges of moving to a new country and learning a second language have inspired Donna to help others in a similar situation. And those experiences have influenced her career choice.
“I always knew I wanted to teach, but I hadn’t given thought to the possibility of becoming an English as a second language (ESL) teacher until I looked back on my past and remembered the good times I’d had as an ESL student when I moved to the U.S.,” said Donna. “I remembered my friends, the fun games and activities, and how sad I was when I placed out of ESL in the fourth grade. I also remember the joy I felt when I finally reached the reading level to be able to read Harry Potter. I want to provide the same experience for new English learners.”
As an aspiring elementary ESL teacher, Donna was accepted into Meredith’s Early Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program, which allows undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing a career in teaching the opportunity to take graduate level courses in their field of interest as a senior.
“Being involved in the Early MAT program allowed me a taste of what would be expected in a graduate program,” said Donna. “I learned just how in-depth graduate courses go compared to undergraduate courses. My experiences in the classes only reinforced my decision to become a teacher.”
In preparation for her future, Donna took on two internships. She interned with Neighbor to Neighbor, an ESL afterschool and mentorship program, where she worked with children, helped with interpreting, and was responsible for assigning tutors to students. She also interned as a student writer in the Meredith College marketing department, a perfect fit for her writing passion.
“Working with the marketing department really helped me develop my writing skills and I learned so much about the writing process and different styles of writing,” said Donna. “Neighbor to Neighbor prepared me for graduate school and for my career by giving me experience working with children of all ages, and I was able to apply the material from my psychology courses.”
As a Wings student, Donna has taken advantage of the opportunities available to her. She enjoyed getting to know other adults in the program and having the opportunity to be inspired and encouraged by them in her classes. Donna also liked the networking programs that were provided to them.
“As a 23-year-old in the Wings program, most students couldn’t tell that I was older than them and most Wings students couldn’t tell that I was a Wings student,” said Donna. “I sort of had the best of both worlds. I saw that it is never too late to go back to school. It’s never too late to do anything.”
The transfer student also found ways to get involved on campus. She served in Angeles Latinas and the Immigrant and Refugee Club. Donna is also a member of Psi Chi, the psychology honor society, and Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society.
As a psychology major and professional writing and presentation media minor, Donna feels well prepared for the future and plans to use the knowledge she gained from her time at Meredith in her classroom. The results of her thesis project, “Analyzing the function and use of hand gestures in adult ESL students,” will be key as she takes on her next journey of working with ESL learners.
Along with being a teacher, Donna plans to use her love of writing and her professional writing minor by continuing to write in her spare time, possibly freelancing, as well as writing fiction and writing for herself. She would also like to try her hand at community theater, writing and performing.
After graduation Donna will get a jump start on her teaching career as a teaching assistant at a local elementary school while she completes the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Meredith.
“As an ESL teacher, I want to help children learn the dominant language of their new home and discover the joy of reading and writing,” said Donna. “I want children to enjoy ESL the way I did in elementary school and leave as begrudgingly as I did with the tools and knowledge needed to succeed on their own.”
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