To, Through & Beyond
Many Uncommon alumni have not only met the challenge of making it to and through college, but have gone on to access an advanced degree beyond their bachelor’s. For three Uncommon alumni pursuing an advanced degree directly after graduating with their undergraduate degree, it is not only an accomplishment for themselves and their families, but an investment in the communities they wish to serve. While a college degree has historically been out of reach for many young people in this country, one could imagine how inaccessible an advanced degree might be, especially for those who identify as BIPOC women. At Uncommon Schools, Julissa Palmero, UCHS ’16, Annabella Adragna, UCHS ’18, and Yarleny Andeliz, UCHS ’19 found a north star in their college counselor, Beverly Santos, who played a key role in their journeys to and through college and beyond. Here are their reflections on their decisions to persist through college and pursue master’s degrees in their respective fields.
AnnaBella Adragna UCHS ’18 is pursuing a master’s degree at one of the top 20 public health programs in the country, at NYU. She graduated from Cornell University in May 2022 with a degree in sociology and a minor in Latino Studies.
What role did your college counselor or college advisor play in your journey toward a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree?
My college counselor (Beverly Santos) was the reason I applied to Cornell University for my undergraduate degree. I did not believe I could get in and was even against the idea of even applying because I thought it would be a waste of time. However, Ms. Santos kept pushing me to apply despite my pushback. She kept affirming for me that I was capable of getting in and that I should not assume their answer will be no without even trying. She kept emphasizing that I needed to get out of my own head and even though I come from a different background than most students who apply to Cornell, my background and my experiences are valuable.
Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree? How do you hope to utilize your degree?
I decided to pursue my master’s degree because I still felt like I had so much to learn after my undergrad at Cornell. I came into Cornell pursuing a degree in sociology, however, during the pandemic, my passion for healthcare equity grew once I saw the unequal treatment and resources people of color in my neighborhood received. This ignited my passion to explore healthcare management and policy and someday become a program administrator who can create health initiatives that serve vulnerable populations. I specifically want to create health interventions that service women of color. As someone who grew up in a matriarchy, I have witnessed the lack of resources for women of color when it comes to their health firsthand. This motivates me to be an advocate for women of color and provide them the support they are not getting from the current American healthcare system.
What was the greatest obstacle within your college/graduate school journey that you needed to overcome to get to where you are today?
The greatest obstacle I have had to overcome during my college and graduate school journey is advocating for myself when I needed help. As a first generation student, I often felt embarrassed asking for help because I assumed this would make me look incapable in comparison to my peers. I had to grow out of this mindset once I saw how badly it impacted my grades, my mental health and my self-esteem. I really had to remind myself that I am here for a reason and community is everything. Once I started asking for help and relying on my community, I received the support I needed to excel and be the best version of myself.
What advice would you give alumni interested in pursuing an advanced degree?
There’s growth in the discomfort. After graduating from college, I’ve honestly felt uncomfortable not knowing exactly what I was doing and acclimating to life after undergrad. Trust in yourself and your journey. You are going to feel lost and that is totally okay. However, remind yourself that this is a stepping stone to the next chapter in your life.