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IUN’s Class of 2024: Feeling right at home across the country

Labor studies graduate Abby Aguilera found her future studying online at IU Northwest

May 4, 2024

A women sits smiling in front of a factory.

Abby Aguilera isn’t the typical Indiana University Northwest student.

She grew up in the south and lives in Katy, Texas, with her husband and 1-year-old son. She was homeschooled her entire life, never attending a public school until enrolling at IU Northwest. Even in a diverse class of graduates ranging from ages 15 to 65, Aguilera’s story is certainly unique.

But despite never seeing the campus from which she will soon graduate, the labor studies student always felt completely at home.

“I have had nothing short of an amazing experience with Indiana University Northwest,” Aguilera said.

Aguilera, 26, originally went to a small private college but realized it wasn’t right for her. She had always struggled with math and science. Because of this, she even had a professor tell her she “Wasn’t that smart” and “no better than a C-level student.”

Hearing those words hurt and Aguilera decided to step away from school for a few years to work and pay off some of the student loans she had accumulated.

She went to paralegal school during the day to earn her certificate while working another full-time job at night. To move up in the paralegal world, however, she needed more than two years of higher education.

Instead of getting any degree, Aguilera decided to pursue her special interest — labor studies.

She was always fascinated with the field, which stemmed from her obsession with the musical Newsies, in which the main character, a newsboy, organized a strike. Some of her graduation photos were taken in front of the Imperial Sugarland Company, a major historical labor landmark in Texas, and she even has labor-related tattoos.

Aguilera discovered Indiana University had one of the best labor studies programs in the country, and it was completely online, which made it possible for her to pursue with her busy schedule.

Eventually, Aguilera left the paralegal field after experiencing pregnancy discrimination at her workplace. Her goal of becoming a labor organizer faded, too, when she realized the hours and travel she would have to commit would take her away from her family.

But she kept going. And at IU Northwest, Aguilera found something she hadn’t found at her previous college — faculty who truly believed in her.

“After talking to my IU professors and receiving a lot of encouragement from them and all of them were like, ‘You would excel in grad school,’” Aguilera said. “My professors have been the most encouraging people ever.”

Thanks to that encouragement, Aguilera did excel. She struggled only in picking classes because all the subjects and professors fascinated her. After having her intelligence questioned at her previous institution, she is preparing to graduate with a 3.95 GPA.

While Aguilera never thought about graduate school before, she decided to pursue her master’s in library science. She applied to three programs and got into her top choice studying public librarianship at the University of Alabama where she will start this fall.

“I’m really excited to learn how to be a community worker in a different way than I was in the labor program,” Aguilera said. “I think, especially in the coming years, that’s going to be really important.”

After giving birth, Aguilera said the most post-partum support she received was from her public library, which helped new mothers apply for different programs, offered infant reading classes and more. She wants to have that same impact in her community.

Before continuing her academic journey, Aguilera’s excited to be joined by her family, husband, child and childhood friends for Commencement, where she’ll visit IU Northwest, a campus she’s never seen before, and meet faculty/staff — including Paul Mishler, Marquita Walker and Velma Rucker — she’s never met in person but that have meant so much to her academic journey.

It hasn’t been a linear path, but Aguilera is excited to start a new chapter in her life, which she feels will be the most rewarding one thus far. She knows other students are struggling to find their way but hopes her story can serve as motivation that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams.

“Honestly, don’t be afraid to take a break if you need to,” she said. “For me, it was taking a break after the first two years when I was like, ‘Hey, this isn’t working.’ Whatever school you’re at, if something’s not clicking, it’s OK to take a break. It’s OK to not know what you’re doing. It’s OK to take a break and figure out what you’re doing.”

After all, your future — even if it’s across the country — is out there waiting for you to find it.

Read more about IUN’s Class of 2024

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