As a child of deaf adults, Julita Nunez ’24 was born into two worlds—One where sign language formed the bonds of communication between her and her parents, and the other outside of the home where she used her voice to connect with friends and teachers at school.
Throughout her childhood, growing up in New York City, Nunez saw firsthand how people with disabilities were often at a disadvantage. Advocating for her parents defined her youth, and impacted the ways in which she has interacted with everyone around her. During shopping trips, she would translate between her parents and sales associates, and when they were out to dinner, she would help relay menu selections between her parents and the wait staff.
“I have always strived to make sure that accommodations were being made for them, and to make sure that their voices were being heard. Seeing my parents’ struggles and lack of opportunities made me want to help other people with disabilities and be that additional resource that my parents didn’t have as they were looking for jobs and going through life in general. I learned in high school that people were not always prepared with accommodations for those with disabilities and it made me realize I wanted to be part of that change,” she said.
Now a senior at SUNY Potsdam, Nunez has focused her academic and career goals on helping others. When she first enrolled at the College, she joined the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP), which provided her with the support to succeed on campus as she pursued a degree in anthropology. Now, she is giving back to younger students in the program in her role as the CSTEP intern as she meets with her classmates one-on-one to map out their academic paths and help them prepare for their future.
“CSTEP offers opportunities for low-income students, especially from metro areas like New York City, to explore different fields that they may not have had access to back home,” she said. “The greatest benefit of the CSTEP program, at least for me, is the readiness that it provides—preparing students for their undergraduate experience, making sure they’re on track, and helping them figure out their path in life.”
In the Lougheed Center for Applied Learning, she has taken on a similar leadership role as a peer advisor in career services, where she works with students and alumni on their resumes and cover letters. As part of her role, she has been working with incarcerated individuals in the Potdsam@RCF program. In the fall of 2023, she was handed a stack of resumes and cover letters handwritten by inmates who are currently enrolled in the program. To prepare them for life after prison, Nunez carefully edited their documents, and left detailed notes with her recommendations.
“She wrote them all on sticky notes. The resumes and cover letters were covered, they looked like they were feathered," said Jenica Rogers, executive director for the Lougheed Learning Commons. "She was really thoughtful about it and focused on helping these guys. I’m so grateful for her because she made it possible for us to offer the same comparable service to those students that we offer to our students that we see face to face.”
As Nunez wraps up her final semester at SUNY Potsdam, she is looking ahead to a rewarding career focused on serving the needs of others. “My goal after graduating from SUNY Potsdam is to become a career counselor, either working for non-profits, the incarcerated, the disabled, or working in high education,” she said. “Potsdam has helped me find myself in terms of the work I want to do. The community, the friendships, both personal and professional, those are the things I will take with me forever, because they have shaped me into the person I am today.”
Article and photos by Jason Hunter