UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
Name: Carla Ortiz Perez
Company: Assistant Probation Officer, Juvenile Services Division, Ramsey County Juvenile Detention Center
Hometown: Rosemont, Minn.
Major: Criminology and Sociology
The first generation college student from Rosemount, Minn., is graduating from UW-River Falls with her bachelor's degree in hand and no student debt to her name. A criminology and sociology major, Carla will also be starting her post-grad life with a new career. She has been hired as an assistant probation officer in the Juvenile Services Division at the Ramsey County Juvenile Detention Center in St. Paul.
"It's thrilling to feel like I'm already a step ahead of my accomplishments," says Carla. "Knowing that once that day [commencement] comes, I already have my opportunities and can plan ahead, it helps take the pressure off a little. I feel like it sets you up to go and hit the ground running. I feel like it gives me a really solid foundation to start the next chapter of my life."
The solid start to life after graduation hasn't come without hard work and sacrifice though.
"It's been very stressful. I've earned scholarships but also worked two jobs at times. It's not easy when you're on a deadline for an assignment but you also know you have to go to work. It's a little bit overwhelming," she explains. "But after knowing that school is paid for, it becomes a huge relief to know I don't have to worry about that later on in my life."
Carla owes a lot of her success to her family, as she readily admits they have been her rock as she has worked towards her degree.
"My parents were very supportive. When I would be very tired and think to myself 'oh my goodness, what am I doing?' They would be like, 'you're doing great, keep it up!'" she says. "They would tell me that I was doing awesome but that I had to keep pushing on. It really helped a lot to hear them encouraging me."
The encouragement of her family has not been the only motivator for Carla. She is a first-generation college student and has been driven to be the first in her family to accomplish the goal of a bachelor's degree.
"My sister and I are very competitive. [We] both got our associate's degree and I just knew I wanted to take the next step and keep going as far as I can," she explains. "I'm from a Latino background and too many times you don't see females pursuing higher education. My sister and I have drawn on that and our competitiveness has pushed me further. I knew she would support me and be happy for me."
"I have always wanted to make my parents proud," she continues. "I knew getting an associate's degree would be fine, but a bachelor's was the ultimate goal. They are thrilled. They are very supportive, even more so because I'm graduating with a bachelor's degree without any actual debt."
While her family has provided the support for Carla to accomplish her goals, she says UW-River Falls has provided the education and lifelong skills needed to succeed.
"Desiree Wiesen-Martin [assistant professor] in the sociology and criminology department has been so influential. I always enjoyed going to her class. Her examples are life-based, not just book-based. She taught to our generation and used relevant material. That really helps you understand," explains Carla. "I was involved in several organizations and experiences here at UW-River Falls that provided me with usable skills. I had to stand up and be in front of audiences. It took away my fear of being on a stage. I feel more confident."
Carla says one her favorite experiences as a student is also one she encourages future Falcons to take advantage of.
"I attended a conference geared toward my major. I always tell people to seek out and see if their major has something similar," she says. "You learn to network with people, you learn to socialize more. You learn about other positions within your major so it gives you a broader, more knowledgeable experience. You can really get a feel if that direction is suitable for you."
"It's part of what motivated me," she continues. "There have been so many opportunities offered here at River Falls. It's what sets this place apart, the opportunities are endless."