Posted Friday, October 2, 2020 @ 12:48 PM
When you meet Maria, one of the first things apparent about her is the calm yet engaged energy she exudes. “I think it’s part of what makes her so welcoming every time I’ve seen her interact with anyone,” UnionWest staff employee Malcolm Kelly says of our latest RA Spotlight. Maria Gomez is pursuing Graphic Design with a focus on becoming a User Experience Designer at Valencia College. When she’s not taking classes or checking in on her floor residents, she’s likely finding something active to get involved in. “She is the type of person to leave a lasting impression and connection with almost everyone she meets. UnionWest is lucky to have such a great spirit as hers,” Malcolm concluded.
Up until she was 16 years old, Maria called Bogota—the capital of Colombia and a vibrant area rich with history and community—her home. Now, as a second year RA at UnionWest, she’s bringing her own vibrancy and helping build a sense of community at UnionWest. For Maria, “being a student leader is more than just being a role model. Because true leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” This outlook, the idea of being your best to bring out the best in others and looking beyond the self, is part of what makes her such an amazing RA. Whether it’s helping the residents on her floor, fellow RA’s or even volunteering to pose as a model for housing photoshoots, Maria can do it all.
Maria says her natural ability to engage and interact with her residents is her favorite part of being Hispanic. “[It’s] something cool that I have noticed about being Hispanic: [many] of us have a very strong relationship with our families, which allows us to naturally be friendly or connect easily with others.” Maria says being Hispanic has also helped her develop better connections with residents in the sense that “I can adapt easily when it comes to understanding their personality or where they come from.” Both UCF and Valencia have diverse student populations, and Maria’s acceptance and excitement for other cultures makes her a perfect fit for UnionWest.
When asked about her nationality or what she wants people to know about being Colombian, Maria showed a love for the holistic and immersive experience of many Hispanic celebrations. “Something very popular and special about Hispanic countries is that they host various festivals and celebrations throughout the year. One of our biggest celebrations is the ‘Barranquilla’s carnival.” Known as one of the world’s largest carnivals, the carnival has more than one hundred years of tradition woven into it. It is a celebration of folklore and Colombian culture that runs for 4 days, “where people party in the streets in colorful celebration of our culture.”
Though she doesn’t personally practice any traditions, Maria enjoys trying all the Hispanic foods during this time of year. “I feel that [the] food goes far beyond just eating. The background music, attires, wall decorations. [It] all ties into the experience.”
In Fall 2017, UCF’s Hispanic/Latino undergraduate student population exceeded the 25% threshold to be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic Serving Institution in January 2019. Since then, UCF has embraced this HSI campus identity as it provides another opportunity for us to demonstrate our commitment to an inclusive and diverse campus. Valencia College has also been identified as a Hispanic Serving System. Learn more about UCF HSI here.