Thelmy Maldonado chose UMD. She had visited other campuses, but when she toured UMD’s Multicultural Center, “That was it,” she said.
Maldonado was also drawn to the Multicultural Living Community, a new UMD initiative last fall in which 24 freshmen students from diverse backgrounds shared one floor in Griggs Hall. Each student had to apply to be a part of the program.
“I made friends with a girl who is Ethiopian and her roommate who is Tibetan. We learned from each other,“ she said. The program proved successful and has continued in the fall of 2012.
The Multicultural Center, housed in the Office of Cultural Diversity, provides many students with a firm foundation. “Sometimes I’m the only student of color in my class,” Maldonado stated. “I’m at the Multicultural Center before classes and after classes. It’s nice to be able to relate to people who look like you, who are going through some of the same things. We have a common goal to achieve things.”
The Multicultural Center was established to implement programs that support UMD’s commitment to inclusivity, equity, and multiculturalism. In addition, the Office of Cultural Diversity staff develops and implements programs and services that affirm and support the retention and graduation of African American, Asian/Pacific American, Latino/Chicano, International, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender students. The Center is dedicated to inclusion and education, and anyone can join any of the organizations headquartered in the Multicultural Center.
Maldonado, whose father is originally from Mexico and her mother from Guatemala, is a member of the Latino/Chicano Student Association. “We try to teach awareness of the Latino culture. We sponsor different events like the Fiesta in the spring or the Day of the Dead [Día de los Muertos]. This fall, we will be doing a display on Cesar Chavez and his place in Latino Culture.” Maldonado is also a member of the Black Student Association. “Everyone is welcome,” she said.
Anything is Possible
Maldonado comes from a large, close-knit family and is the eldest of ten grandchildren. She was born in California. Her grandparents, aunts, and uncles moved to Minnesota when she was a kid. Her family soon followed. “We’ve stuck together,” she stated.
As the first person in her family to attend college, Maldonado is a trailblazer. “My family is so proud of me. They take pride in my accomplishments. I come home for break or for holidays, they always want to hear about the stuff I've done, the clubs I'm involved in.” She noted that it was her family's support that helped her get to college. “My dad always pushed me to never settle for less than my best,” she said. “My parents want the success for us that they never had.”
Maldonado is also a role model and not just to her younger siblings and cousins. Her mom is now going to college, and Maldonado’s aunt is taking online college classes. “I think I motivated them,” she said.
This fall, Maldonado started her sophomore year, majoring in psychology. She was excited to return to UMD. “I’ve built all these connections. I can’t see myself going to any other institution.”
She is finding her way. “At first, I worried about having to take it all so seriously, having to study all the time.” But she has discovered she can infuse her college life with some play. This fall she is taking an acting class. “Just for fun,” she said. “You can have fun while you reach your goals.”
Her goals include eventually working with troubled children, as a counselor or a social worker. Last summer, she was a nanny to five of her young cousins. She also held a job as a sales associate in a retail clothing store.
“I believe anything is possible if you set your mind to it,” Maldonado said. “Work hard, follow your dreams.”
Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann, June 2012