Melissa Ruiz Hernandez ‘22: how the Latina/o Studies Program helped her find her place on campus

Melissa Ruiz Hernandez, she/her/ella, a senior in Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR), smiled at the question of her favorite thing she has accomplished while working at the Latino Studies Program (LSP); “what you’re doing right now!” she exclaimed with happiness. “Every time I’ve interviewed someone, it’s been someone that I’ve looked up to.”

Ruiz Hernandez has been working for LSP since her sophomore year, starting in her fall semester. Originally from a small town in southwest Florida called Immokalee, she experienced the expected cultural and weather shock, moving to an Ivy League college on the East Coast. However, there’s more than a location that impacted her well-being, perception, and success at Cornell; “my first semester was the worst semester, in terms of my mental health, because I was so homesick.”

Describing how she would count down the days until going back home, “as a freshman, I truly didn't know if I was going to make it to senior year.” Now that she has made it this far, many things feel uncertain, “because I didn't even know if I was gonna make it this far. You know what I'm saying?” Freshman year is one of the hardest years, she noted, because of how everyone is establishing themselves, “but I promise you, everything's gonna be okay.”

As a first-generation student, “I think sometimes it's hard to know how to navigate your next steps after a milestone like obtaining a bachelor's since you've been working towards that for so long… because as a first-generation student, you don't have anyone guiding you, at least within your family.” You have to find your path at your discretion and find people to lean on.

However, she realized that it’s okay if you don’t know what you’re doing right now because things will eventually “just fall into place and what's meant for you will be for you.” It’s also okay to put up boundaries and say no to some things, Ruiz Hernandez emphasizes, because “you can't possibly take every opportunity that's offered to you.”

One of the opportunities that she did take, nevertheless, was working at LSP as a communications intern. LSP has been beneficial to Ruiz Hernandez for several reasons. Being able to “help out [and meet] other students” in a place that provides both a physical and cultural community allowed her to meet many of her friends while hanging out after events like Fridays with Faculty. She notes how oftentimes, the physical space leads to the creation of cultural connections and unforgettable bonds; “I think just the physical space itself helped [me find a community]... with other BIPOC students.”

Access to mentorship plays a huge role, too. “Dean [Juliette] Corazon has been someone that has supported me here at Cornell,” same for people like Marti and Zucy. “Just like for everyone that works at LSP, they've been really good mentors to me,” noting how she is glad she found out about LSP early on in her college career.

Reflecting on what Ruiz Hernandez would tell her younger, college freshman self, she took a minute to ponder before she promptly responded: “Your voice and ideas matter. Also, have more fun. And lastly, thank you for working so hard.” LSP gave her the resources and space to realize the power of learning more about yourself through interviewing others and making connections that last a lifetime.



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Melissa Ruiz Hernandez