The inspiration to help at-risk teenagers achieve success comes from her personal struggles. Vanessa Bustamante, a Chicano studies and communication studies major, used to be a high school student that was barely getting by. Now, she is recognized for her outstanding academic achievement and still finds time to actively participate in various organizations in order to help young adults excel.
Besides being the first in her family to go to college, she is on the dean’s list and a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and Golden Key Honor Society. She is also a second year resident adviser, an active participant in MEChA and a founding sister for the CSUN chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc.
Part of her drive to surpass academic expectations is a result of the sacrifices her parents have made in order to give her the opportunity of higher education. Now she works continuously to make sure other students understand that they too can stand in her place. She achieves this in part by doing countless hours of community service including cancer and AIDS walks.
“The most symbolic event I have done is putting on the Raza Youth Conference with MEChA. We bring at-risk students and teach them that they can get to college,” Bustamante said.
For this event, the students are brought to the location on buses and are taught that no obstacle is big enough to keep them from attending college. Bustamante stresses to students, no matter how bad their grades are at the moment, or how little money they have in their checking account, there is a way.
Having these conversations with students hits close to home for her.
“I was not a very good high school student and wasn’t sure if I would go to college. Now I have become an outstanding honor roll student and proved the people who doubted me wrong,” she said.
Her purpose for attending conferences is to show students that she is proof that overcoming academic struggles can be done. She wants at-risk youths to prove stereotypes wrong just as she did.
“I had a lot of people doubt me growing up, especially teachers,” Bustamante said. “I was surrounded by the negative stereotypes of a Chicana, often having people tell me I was never going to make it, and making it to college and achieving the various things I have achieved have gone to prove a lot of people wrong.”
She said that the best part of contributing her time to teens from her same culture and community is seeing the results.
“A few years ago when we put on the Raza Youth Conference, a pregnant girl showed up. She didn’t think she would go to college because of her situation. Later I saw her on our CSUN campus. This showed that this really works,” she said.
For Bustamante, the best reward is not the recognition she receives, but rather feels most proud knowing that the students she is helping today will continue on to college and educate upcoming generations that their struggles can be overcome, just like someone told her.