Esperanza Salgado struggled when she first came to Northwestern. A first-generation college student from Cicero, Ill., she entered the University "at a complete disadvantage," she says. "I went to a pretty bad high school, where I was a relatively good student. I came to college and got really lost and confused."
Then she made her first contacts with what would become a strong support network by attending Festival LatiNU, an annual fall event that kicks off the monthlong Hispanic Heritage Celebration at Northwestern.
"When I walked onto campus as a freshman, I didn't really see any Latinos," Salgado says. "Festival LatiNU was one of the first events I went to, and it was really a highlight to go to this event … and to be able to say OK, there are Latinos here."
Then she joined Sigma Lambda Gamma, a traditionally Latina-based multicultural sorority. She says her sisters supported her growth.
"All students who come to Northwestern have great qualities, but once we get here, we kind of get lost in the crowd," Salgado says. "Joining this sorority with this small, tight-knit group and establishing close friendships with those women and having their support is very beneficial for me."
These networks helped her transform from a lost freshman into a flourishing campus leader. An anthropology and Spanish double major in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Salgado served as public relations chair and co-vice-president of Alianza — the Hispanic/Latino Student Alliance, as president of Sigma Lambda Gamma and as a student assistant for Hispanic/Latino Student Affairs.
She also reached beyond to Northwestern to the West Side community where she grew up. Salgado says she never would have made it to Northwestern if not for the Corazon Community Center, a youth-centered nonprofit where she participated in after-school programming throughout high school.
"When Corazon came into our neighborhood, it was our space where we could hang out and create our own atmosphere and not be on the streets and not fall into those traps that Cicero has," says Salgado. "Cicero has a lot of gang violence, a lot of drug abuse."
During summers throughout college, Salgado returned to Cicero to work with Corazon. The summer after her sophomore year Salgado received a Davee Summer Fellowship from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences to work with youth at Corazon while conducting her own research on how center staff perceived their influence on Corazon's clientele.
Based on her experiences Salgado knows she wants to either work with a nonprofit that serves youth or in student affairs at a university. In the fall she will join the staff of Evanston Township High School through the Northwestern University Public Interest Program. She will work with the associate principal and dean of students to increase attendance rates at the high school and plan student programming focused on the multicultural diversity of the school.
In the longer-term future, Salgado can see herself working right where she got her start — at Corazon Community Center.
"I've joked around with Corazon's executive director and told him 'I'm going to take your job in 10 years!'" Salgado says. "He tells me, 'My job is going to be ready for you in 10 years.'"