Teresita Cuevas Arizos represents the growing face of diversity that is higher education in the United States. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Hispanic undergraduate enrollment in the U.S. increased by 148 percent between 2000 and 2018. As a first generation college graduate, Teresita’s story demonstrates the power of determination and illustrates perseverance through adversity.
Teresita and her family moved to the United States from Mexico in 2006 following her husband’s career as an electrical engineer. Settling into their new life and growing their family along the way, she would eventually find time to pursue her goal of continuing her education. As the primary household caretaker and without a familial support system, she would not be able to enroll for her first class until the fall semester of 2017 at Wake Technical Community College.
A language barrier, unfamiliar knowledge of the college hourly credit system, and navigating new technology were only a few of the challenges she would encounter.
While enrolled at Wake Tech, Teresita’s husband, Raymundo, was diagnosed with cancer, a pivotal point in her life that led to changes in her education and career goals.
“Initially, I wanted just to become a pharmacy technician,” she says. “Later on, when [Raymundo] was diagnosed, and I started seeing all the process that cancer patient goes [through] – they don’t understand a lot of treatments, and all that kind of stuff – so, I wanted to understand more about the [clinical research] field and help him.”
After graduation from Wake Technical Community College, she enrolled at Campbell University Adult & Online Education’s Raleigh campus to pursue a Bachelor of Applied Science in Clinical Research. She remained her family’s primary caretaker, traveling between her husband’s chemotherapy treatments in the daytime and attending courses at night, in addition to maintaining the household and taking care of her children.
Despite treatment, Raymundo’s cancer progressed, and he passed away on July 29, 2020.
“Many times, I wanted to quit that he didn’t allow me. He said ‘no, you can do it,’” she recalls. “And before he passed, he told me to finish and that I was going to be fine.”
When asked what advice she would give to others continuing their education, she says, “I would say just go for it. See what you want to do, what do you want to become, and set small goals, but your main goal is finishing school and graduating. Don’t be afraid because the beginning is scary, and if you don’t understand everything, later, little by little, it gets better.”
Teresita will be graduating summa cum laude on May 8, 2021 with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Clinical Research. Currently, her daughter Vanessa is finishing her junior year at UNC Chapel Hill, son Raymundo is a high school sophomore, and her son Nicholas is in fifth grade.