Cristina Jiménez ’20 moved to the United States with her mother when she was just 12 years old. Although she had spoken with her father from her childhood home in Ecuador many times before, she had never seen him face-to-face. That all changed when she picked up her roots and relocated to Long Island, N.Y.
“It was hard at the beginning, especially with the language. My dad was here (in the U.S.) and I had never met him before—it was really nice to just see him for the first time, it was very emotional,” Jiménez said.
She quickly started adjusting to her new surroundings and new school, and at the encouragement of her teacher, she took advanced English classes. When she reached high school, she enrolled in classes at BOCES, where she became a certified nursing assistant, leading to a job at the South Hampton Hospital—there discovering both her love for helping people and her interest in using her language skills to improve communication.
As a senior in high school, Jiménez had the chance to work with patients dealing with mental health issues and she realized that she really wanted to be a clinical psychologist, while also using her Spanish language skills to help people. One day a patient was admitted to the hospital who only spoke Spanish, and Jiménez was able to translate between the doctors, nursing staff and the patient. “I felt good! I was actually able to use my Spanish to help that person,” she said.
When she arrived at SUNY Potsdam, Jiménez chose to pursue a double major in Spanish and psychology. “I loved Potsdam. I had two sides to rely on, the Spanish professors and the psychology professors,” she said.
Jiménez took a Memory and Human Rights class with Dr. Liliana Trevizán, a senior seminar where students examined everything from Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile to the cultural and historic events occurring in Mexico. She also worked with Dr. Sergio López as part of an internship through the Lougheed Center for Applied Learning’s Bob Award, endowed by Robert J. Hill ’77 to financially support faculty in developing and implementing applied learning experiences with students.
In the spring of 2018, López set up internships for five SUNY Potsdam students to organize the AIBR International Conference of Anthropology, an international scientific event held at the University of Granada in Spain, from Sept. 4 to the 7. As part of the organizing committee, Jiménez worked on social media marketing, sent out thousands of emails to attendees and provided Spanish to English translation for a variety of materials for the conference, for everything from the event’s program to directions.
As icing on the cake, Jiménez got to travel to Granada with López and her classmates—fully funded by the Bob Award and AIBR. During the conference, she worked as a volunteer to keep the event running smoothly—handing out credentials to the participants, assisting the photographer and providing water to the guest speakers. “I would say that helping people was my favorite part. I was meeting a lot of people from Ecuador and Peru, a lot of different countries. I felt very welcomed,” she said.
Besides creating an international applied learning experience for Jiménez, López has also been helping her prepare for future job opportunities and graduate school as part of a speaking intensive Spanish class, Intermediate Conversation. In addition to educating students about Spain, López creates mock interview scenarios and helps students refine their résumés. “What I like about Dr. López is that he’s always there to help you out with whatever you need,” she said.
For her other major she worked with Dr. Claire Starrs in the Department of Psychology, a professor with a background in clinical psychology. “I wanted to do the same thing that she was doing, I wanted to help people with their problems. I had a class with her where we talked about anorexia and different disorders, which I found really interesting."
Jiménez also praised Dr. Arlene Stillwell’s psychology classes. “She wants to let you know that if you need help, she’s there for you no matter what,” Jiménez said.
The support system she found at SUNY Potsdam extended beyond the classroom. The Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program was a tremendous source of encouragement and financial support, covering the cost of her books, and fees associated with taking the GRE, and providing her with guidance. “If you have any problems you can go talk to your counselors. Programs like CSTEP have made me like SUNY Potsdam even more,” Jiménez said.
After she graduated, Jiménez received a master's degree in Spanish and social work at Binghamton University, while taking on a leadership role by teaching Spanish 101 to undergraduate students at the university. In March 2023, she landed a job as a social worker in a mental health clinic in East Hampton, N.Y., launching a career that continues to build on her strong foundation from SUNY Potsdam.
Article and photos by Jason Hunter