A group of students in class.

When Estrellita Mondragon started at NYU after leaving her hometown near Chicago, she didn’t know anyone in a new city. She was also the first in her family to attend college and unfamiliar with navigating college life. However, her resilience and determination led her to seek opportunities to connect with her Mexican American heritage. Now a third-year student at the Silver School of Social Work, Estrellita has not only found her place within the NYU community but has also forged a path for other undergraduate students like her to find their own.

People walking through Washington Square Park.

Discovering Community

When Estrellita first arrived in New York City, she struggled with the transition from her home’s majority Latino neighborhood. Even walking into grocery stores was a culture shock when she couldn’t find her favorite imported Mexican tortillas and snacks. Estrellita used Instagram to find NYU Latino organizations, and found a post from the Latinx Social Work Student Organization (LSWSO). The LSWSO posted about an upcoming picnic in Washington Square Park, and Estrellita decided to join. It was only when everyone began introducing themselves that she realized it was a group for graduate students. However, they welcomed her with open arms. Now Estrellita sits as the first undergraduate student on the club’s board. “It’s been really fun to create a bridge between undergraduate and grad students in that organization,” she says.

Estrellita’s passion for fostering community extends beyond the LSWSO. She serves as the NYU community outreach chair for the Mexican Student Association, organizing events to celebrate and share Mexican culture in the NYU community. Additionally, she traveled to Peru during spring break to support Indigenous communities in Machu Picchu with NYU’s Alternative Breaks program.

A student talking with a counselor at the Wasserman Center for Career Development.

A Journey of Growth

Coming into college, Estrellita was interested in political science and government but didn’t see herself going into politics or law. “I just knew I wanted to help people and advocate for change,” she says. With social work, she discovered ways to effect change at a systemic level through policy. She now minors in Social and Public Policy and is particularly interested in urban planning and higher education.

Estrellita credits her transformative experience at NYU to the mentorship and guidance of influential professors like Pia Hargrove, who have played a pivotal role in shaping her academic journey. She is thankful for the times she pushed herself out of her comfort zone over her three years at NYU.

“By getting out of my bubble and finding organizations within NYU, I was able to explore and find my place at this huge university,” she says. And those groups introduced her to more NYU resources, including the Wasserman Center for Career Development for free headshots and professional development advising.

From a student looking for community to a leader helping other students find their footing, Estrellita has embraced the diversity and vibrancy of her new surroundings.

“Being a first-generation student, I didn’t know what I was walking into at all,” she says. “It took a lot of trial and error. But with the support of NYU’s resources, I was able to find my own community and pathway.”