Alums offer advice for current students


FILE PHOTO Gladys Valentin, a senior elementary education major and the President of LASO, reads a book with Aubrey Malak, a three year old Charleston resident, during Latino Hertiage Story Time on Sept. 26 in Booth Library.

Kyara Morales-Rodriguez, Associate News Editor

As a freshman in college, one is starting a new era of their life, one that involves living in a new place with new people to meet and new classes to take.

This era can be exciting, bringing experiences and opportunities one will remember long after graduation.

This era can also be terrifying, with the newness of it all being overwhelming and making it harder to transition into college life.

That is how it was for Gladys Valentin, an Eastern alum who graduated in December 2016 with a degree in foreign languages and a minor in Latin American studies.

During her time at Eastern, she took full advantage of the university’s many opportunities and resources. She said that her passion for language and culture led her to study abroad in Spain during her sophomore year at Eastern.

Valentin joined many organizations such as Latin American Student Organization, Study Abroad Society, Amigos and Friends and Spanish Club. She was even one of the founders of Alpha Psi Lambda, Eastern’s co-ed Latinx fraternity.

Though Valentin has quite a lot of experiences under her belt, she was not always that involved, struggling to get involved during her freshman year at Eastern. Going from a community where she knew everybody because they all attended the same schools to a community where she didn’t know anybody made it harder for her to make friends.

“It was a lot of culture shock,” Valentin said. “I only went to class, saw meetings from LASO and then went back to my dorm and just watched TV or caught up with work. It was just a routine that I adapted.”

It took Valentin a little longer to make friends and break out of her comfort zone, but once she did, she found it very rewarding.

“[LASO and Alpha Psi Lambda] taught me to be more involved, less afraid of trying new things, and more adventurous,” Valentin said. “The memories and the people I met through LASO and Alpha Psi Lambda have definitely been life-changing.”

Her advice to current Eastern students: Try new things. Be adventurous. Learn about anything and everything.

“You just never know when opportunities will come,” Valentin said. “For example, I had no background in Special [Education], and then just because of how I interact with students and how I work with students, I have this opportunity.”

Like Valentin, Eastern alum Diana Cardenas was also involved with different student organizations during her time in the university.

At Eastern she was part of three organizations: Sigma Sigma Sigma, LASO and the Homecoming Committee.

“I was committed to Sigma Sigma Sigma because I wanted to network with other students while holding positions within Sigma that will improve my leadership skills,” Cardenas said. “I became a member of LASO as soon as I transferred to EIU because I wanted to be surrounded by students that had similar cultural backgrounds as me, and it was also a chance for me to meet friends because I did not know many individuals upon my transfer! Being involved with the homecoming committee was great because I was the Marketing Chair, which intertwined with my major.”

For Cardenas, Eastern’s “small yet lively” campus did “an amazing job at providing the full college experience.”

“There are so many different communities at EIU it is almost impossible to not get involved and meet great people in the process,” Cardenas said. “One of my favorite memories at EIU was going Greek and finding my best friends in my sorority!”

Remembering her experiences at Eastern, she said her biggest advice to current students is to get involved as much as possible.

“The more you get involved the more people you’ll meet, and the more memories you’ll have, Cardenas said. “Enjoy every second of college because it does go by fast!”

Eastern alum Fracisco Castellanos had a similar college experience, getting involved with organizations such as LASO and being one of the founding members of Alpha Psi Lambda.

Castellanos graduated from Eastern in December 2019 with a degree in accounting and currently works for an insurance company in downtown Chicago.

“I’ve always been a numbers person and found myself needing to use math/numbers in my everyday life,” Castellanos said. “However, it did take me a while to get here. I actually changed my major twice before finally committing to accounting.”

One of the first student organizations he got involved with was LASO, which he joined because he saw people who represented him and made him feel at home.

“My freshman year, I received the LASO Scholarship for leadership for being one of the most involved members in the RSO,” Castellanos said. “After that, I went on to co-found Alpha Psi Lambda National Inc. with 11 other brothers and sisters. This co-ed Latin interest fraternity was founded because we felt that there was a lack of diversity in Greek life at EIU and wanted something unique to contribute to EIU Greek life.”

During his time at Eastern, he most enjoyed spending time with the friends he made. He said that he enjoyed seeing his friends every day, making memories that last a lifetime.

Attending Eastern and being part of the organizations he was involved with helped Castellanos become “comfortable with being uncomfortable,” and he passes that advice on to current students.

“I am not the same 18-year-old freshman who was scared to take on leadership positions,” Castellanos said. “If I didn’t step outside of my comfort zone like I did in my undergrad, I don’t think my experience would’ve been worth it. Things like being an RA, founding the only Latin-Interest fraternity on campus, and holding numerous leadership positions have really shaped me into the person I am today.”

Kyara Morales-Rodriguez can be reached at 581-2812 or  at [email protected].