Exceptional Grad Beats Financial Adversity, Waltzes on to Next Stage

Starting college can be an intimidating experience, and when Laura Machuca Herrera traveled to the U.S. from her native Ecuador in 2016, her financial situation did not make the leap any less daunting. Overmatched by the cost of international tuition, funds to support her education were quickly dwindling as her family struggled with economic challenges. It was uncertain that she would be able to continue her education at all, so she considered returning home to regroup and help her family.

Machuca recalls this first year in college as a difficult time, but – as perennial contender in Ecuador’s national ballet competitions – she was no stranger to keeping poise and composure during tense situations. It was around then that she found support from Valencia College in the form of scholarships and tuition waivers.

“Valencia gave me hope – when I needed it the most – to not give up on my dreams despite the many obstacles I encountered along the way,” says Machuca.

Machuca went on to take full advantage of her time at Valencia, working as a student leader on the Campus Activities Board and participating in educational and cultural programs for Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and Spirit Week. She also served the community through Valencia Volunteers. In May 2018, little more than two years after enrolling, she graduated with her A.A. degree and a 3.89 GPA.

Machuca’s immigration and academic advisor Marieta Chemishanova describes her as “a natural collaborator and an individual who can both lead and follow,” and as someone who “takes learning seriously, illustrating a commitment to education.”

Now a Valencia graduate, Machuca has been accepted to Rollins College. Before completing her bachelor’s degree, she will spend a year in the education field’s Optional Practical Training (OPT) program filling an assistant teaching position at a pre-kindergarten facility. In the fall of 2019, she will matriculate at Rollins’ idyllic, lakeside campus in Winter Park to begin earning her bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

For now, she’s happy to reflect on the past two years that almost never were.

“Thanks to my experience at Valencia, I grew up professionally and as a person. I was able to realize what I am capable of and the goals that I am able to achieve. I made lifetime friends and met amazing people I will never forget.”