June 29, 2023

‘I get to hold my diploma and say I did it.’

Guadalupe Aguilar began her college journey more than a decade ago in the NDSU Pathway program, a partnership with North Dakota State College of Science that helps prepare students for university-level academics.

“I had never heard of Fargo before, but when I got here I loved it,” said Aguilar, from St. Paul, Minnesota. She took a mental health break from school in 2015.

Aguilar came back to NDSU in 2020 in the Degree Completion program, a program for adults looking to use their prior college credits to finish their bachelor’s degree, whether they want to purse their original major or choose something new.

A friend sent Aguilar a link about the program. She soon realized she was qualified and was determined to try again. She completed the steps on NDSU’s website and got an email the next day.

“My heart dropped. I was shocked and nervous, but I knew I was in a better place than I was when I started,” Aguilar said.

Aguilar wanted an independent life and NDSU offered an option that worked for her financially.

“When I first went to college, the transition from a big city to a smaller town was great. The culture difference was a lot at first, coming from a more diverse city, but the people are so friendly and I’ve learned a lot from them,” she said.

Aguilar said her parents were elated to hear she was going back to school. She found the transition back was harder due to being older and having work experience. Then, a few months after she returned, she lost her dad.

“The last thing he said was, ‘finish that degree,’ Aguilar said. “I wanted to reach that goal for him, but at the same time I wanted to quit. My advisor helped me through it.”

She found support from the NDSU Counseling Center and friends who encouraged her to take things slow. “They knew I could do it,” she said.

Aguilar was initially pursuing a degree in natural resource management, but during her time away she found a new passion while working in the food service industry. She worked with her advisor to create a plan that would fit her goals.

While working full-time as a lead food service worker at NDSU Dining, she was able to have flexibility in her schedule by taking online classes.

Aguilar graduated this spring with a Bachelor of University Studies with minors in hospitality and tourism and natural resource management.

She said her experience at NDSU was amazing and she’s proud she never gave up.

“I get to hold my diploma and say, ‘I did it.’ I’m hoping to bring my diploma to Mexico and put it next to my dad. I did it for him,” she said.

Aguilar encourages people who are considering coming back to finish their degree to give it a chance. “You never know what’s going to happen next in your life. If you feel nervous, still do it. There is an amazing support system here to help you transition,” she said.

Aguilar plans to return to the Twin Cities area and become a food service manager in a dining setting.

“Looking back, I sometimes wish I could start over, but at the same time I think … no. There’s a reason all this happened. I just want to be grateful, proud and keep moving forward with a smile.”

Set your goals in motion by finishing your bachelor’s degree. NDSU will be here to help guide you. Start by filling out the interest form or emailing Jessie Bauer, assistant director, student success initiatives, to schedule an appointment in person or via Zoom.

Start your NDSU experience by completing your application.