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Meet Karen “Lou” Pineda

Medal of Academic Merit recipient and recent graduate Karen “Lou” Pineda has a story that is no short of inspiring.

Yet there is a world in which it may not have happened. That’s because Lou’s journey to MiraCosta College started almost entirely by chance.
When Lou was in high school, she moved from Mexico to the U.S. with her family. A self-described lover of school, the transition wasn’t too bad. In fact, Lou felt right at home in the classroom.

“It may sound odd, but I’ve always loved homework and tests,” joked Lou.

A natural learner, Lou quickly succeeded and like most students at that age, the next step was college. After taking two gap years, Lou applied to multiple institutions before ultimately committing to a university in Oregon. However, upon visiting the school, she realized that the lack of diversity left her feeling out of place.

“When I first stepped onto campus, something just didn’t feel right,” shared Lou. “I didn’t see many people who looked like me and I didn’t get that sense of community.”

For Lou, the community was just as important as the classes.

“College in the U.S. is very different from what I was used to in Mexico where it is more focused on the people and the support they provide you.”

Recognizing the right environment was essential to her success, Lou made the tough decision to forego her first year in Oregon. Instead, she moved south with her family where she learned about a community college right in their backyard - MiraCosta College.

As Lou explained, she stumbled on MiraCosta College by chance, but it quickly became the perfect landing spot.

“California is just so much more diverse and the same went for MiraCosta College,” noted Lou. “From the moment I started in 2021, it felt less intimidating than anything I had experienced thus far.”

Thanks to the MiraCosta College PUENTE Program, Lou found the community she was looking for.

While browsing through classes her first semester, she stumbled upon an English 100 class focused on Mexican literature. Despite not identifying as Chicana or Mexican American, the class intrigued her and she decided to sign up. The only catch was that the class was exclusively for PUENTE students, meaning Lou also had to apply to that program in the process. Fortunately, it was one of the best decisions she could have ever made.

Right away, Lou was hooked. The warm and welcoming community within PUENTE was exactly the type of community that Lou was searching for.

Created to build leaders and help students transfer to four-year university, PUENTE was a place where Lou could feel at home. The program was full of students who shared similar backgrounds and experiences, many of whom also were newer to the U.S.

Said Lou, “The shared language, culture, and even the ability to communicate in Spanish during class discussions, provided me a sense of belonging and purpose. The level of support we received, driven by shared cultural experiences, was monumental.”

Through the program’s counselors and professors, Lou found incredible mentors who genuinely cared about her success, both academically and personally. They worked with her to apply for, and receive, scholarships that allowed her to commit herself to academics.

“PUENTE made me picture myself not only as a professional but also as a leader,” noted Lou, who served as the President of PUENTE in her final year at MiraCosta College.

Today, Lou is taking all that she learned and applying it to a future in the world of STEM. In the fall of 2023, Lou will begin classes at UC Berkeley as a cognitive science major.

“I really like the idea of using technology and computer science to make the world a better place,” shared Lou. “When I graduate, I want to help improve the environment by using the things I’ve learned working in STEM.”

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