Misel Alejandra Ramirez Vasoli is not one to give up when things get hard. Growing up in Juarez, Mexico, her family emphasized the importance of education. “It’s better to work with your brain than your body,” they told her, and an education was something that could never be taken away, no matter her circumstances. Misel took that seriously and became a first-generation student at the University of Texas at El Paso, crossing the border each day to attend classes. Her father, who had left school after 4th grade, and her mother, who had to leave school to support her family, were not always able to finance Misel’s education but they always provided the encouragement: “you have the strength to do this on your own.” She worked multiple jobs and found ways to pay for the last two years of her undergraduate degree and, later, her Master’s degree. When the going got tough, she drew on family lessons of perseverance and resilience and reminded herself that the challenging times would pass. She tried to keep a growth perspective, viewing failures as opportunities to learn and challenges as opportunities to develop new strengths.
After completing her undergraduate degree, Misel took on the next challenge: moving to the Midwest. Although she had been studying in a different country during her undergraduate degree, much of the population in El Paso had been Latino. Upon moving to Wisconsin, Misel faced not just colder weather but also a different dominant culture. It was then that she really started taking pride in her heritage and working to reinforce her sense of identity. She’s proud of being Mexican and appreciates coming from a culture that is caring, smart, and hard working. She takes no shame in telling people, “I’m from Mexico - you’ll probably hear my accent.” Her journey through the Midwest took her from Wisconsin to Chicago and finally to South Bend, which seemed like a good place to raise her new family. It was a challenge to adjust to a smaller, quieter city after having lived in Juarez and Chicago! She recognized that building a community was going to be the key to feeling like she belonged in this new setting and went about connecting with mom groups and the Latino community. She found that it was actually easier to connect with the Latino community here than it had been in Chicago because the community was so well-established and had such strong ties. Casual conversations would lead to more introductions to other people with shared interests. Eventually, she found her way to IUSB, where she now works as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Counselor at the Student Counseling Center. She felt a sense of belonging here right away, finding supportive mentors, colleagues, and supervisors who trusted her and made room for creativity. While family circumstances had brought her to Indiana, Misel found the connections that made her want to stay.
Misel was drawn to working in higher education because she genuinely loved being a student. “If I could study all my life, I would,” she says, and she looks forward to taking classes at IUSB without the rush toward a degree. Her passion is working with college students during this formative time in their lives, when they’re growing into adults, developing their identities, forming lasting and influential relationships, and making decisions that can affect the rest of their lives. From her prior career in research, she also has first-hand insights into the disparities in and barriers to mental health care for underserved populations, particularly Latino youth. She herself didn’t always know about or take advantage of the supports available to her in college and she wants to make sure that IUSB students do. Her advice to current students is to ask for help and, most importantly, trust that help when it comes. It takes many for us to accomplish our goals, she says.