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GEAR UP WA | WWU | Full College Conversation (2)

Full Length College Conversation with Eileen, Marilin, Victor, Carla


GEAR UP Washington's goal is to increase the number of students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary programs.  These college conversations were coordinated by Mt. Vernon's GEAR UP program.

Learn more about Eileen (@eileeniebeanie), Marilin (Instagram: @eileeniebeanie), Victor (Instagram @thePhoto_G) and Carla (Instagram: @_carlacarvallo_) on the panelist page.



Eileen Lee
Hometown: Camas, Washington
High School: Camas High School
College: Western Washington University
Year in School: Class of 2021
Major: Design
Eileen’s Places: WWU Glee Club, Compass 2 Campus
First Gen?: Yes
Reach out to Eileen on Instagram: @eileeniebeanie

Marilin Griego
Hometown: Olympia, WA
High School: Pope John Paul II
College: Western Washington University
Year in School:
Class of '21
Major: Human Services with a minor in Education and Social Justice.
Marilin’s Places: Ethnic Student Center, Compass 2 Campus, and classes.
First-Gen?: Yes
Reach out to Marilin on Instagram: @mxrigb

Victor Gonzalez
Hometown: Tepic Nayarit (Mexico), but currently living in Mount Vernon Washington
High School: Mount Vernon High School class of 2014
College: Western Washington University
Year in School:
Class of '21
Major: Sociology and Social Studies (aspires to be a high school teacher in Mount Vernon)
Victor’s Places: Blue group, North 2 Western, and Compass 2 Campus.
First Generation Student: Yes
Reach out to Victor on Instagram @thePhoto_G

Carla Carvallo
Hometown: Sammamish, Washington
High School: Eastlake High School
College: Western Washington University
Year in School: Class of 2021
Major: Sociology/Social Studies BA
Carla’s Places: Compass 2 Campus, FACET (family & community engaged teaching) scholar
Reach out to Carla on Instagram @_carlacarvallo_



Compass 2 Campus:
Family & Community Engaged Teaching (FACET):
Mixed Identity Student Organization:
Future Woodring Scholars:
Ethnic Student Center:
ESC Clubs:
WWU Glee Club:
Blue Group (safe space for undocumented students):

College Conversation Breakdown

Hashtag Directory:
#WhoIs #Highschool #background #firstgen #people #places #patience #diversity #Transition #communitycollege #runningstart #transferstudent #transition  #identity #family #collegeselection #collegeapplication #collegesearch #advice #FAFSA #payingforcollege #financialaid #uncomfortable #WAFSA #undocumented  #DACA  #firstgen #academicstruggle #badgrades #uncomfortablemoment #compass2campus #dreamjob #highschooladvice  #gleeclub #studentorgs  #LGBTQ #genderidentity #gearup #joyfulexperience #COVID #compass2campus

00:54 -  Everyone talks about the weather in Washington. Victor notes it’s ironic that even though it rains a lot no one local seems to own an umbrella, everyone just uses a hood. 

3:15 - Eileen talks about her HS self. Small-ish town but 2200 people at her high school. She was very studious, very involved with lots of clubs, like NHS, she played guitar and piano but wasn’t involved with a school band. #background #highschool #WhoIs

5:24 - Marilin talks about her HS self. She went to a catholic private high school. There were only 20 people in her graduating class. Everyone knew each other.  She was a very quiet kid and never talked much. But at the same time she was on the cheer team. She did it mainly to attend the games. She jokes saying she was maybe the most monotone cheerleader. #background #highschool #WhoIs

7:18 - Carla says she wasn’t as involved but she did run cross country. She didn’t love running but she liked the community of running with her friends after school. She loved learning but had a hard time turning in assignments. So she loved school but it would create anxiety. Her mental health took a dip starting in middle school. She was in full time therapy for a while. Her guidance counselor, and family really helped her and she was able to graduate. College has given her some difficult moments too but she has done so much better at dealing with those.
#background #highschool #WhoIs

12:07 - Victor describes his HS self. He moved from Arizona and had to start fresh. He was pretty shy, just doing homework and not getting involved. He had a low GPA graduated with 2.9. He didn’t get out of his shell until his junior year. His friend got him into photography and he started taking pictures for the school sports games. Harlan asks how victor went from being the shy guy to having so much confidence, as is evident now in the interview. Victor says it was a lot of patience and practice. Step 1 be comfortable being uncomfortable. Practice making eye contact, ask small questions and build rapport.
#background #highschool #WhoIs

16:20 - Harlan asks about Victor’s medals displayed on his wall. He got one for participating in a club at Skagit Valley College. Another is from the Champions of Diversity scholarship. He focuses on the importance of being involved and how there is more to a student than just GPA. He has never had the best grades but he is always very involved in his community. 

19:00 - Carla talks about her journey from HS to college, how she thought to go to college. She says her community is pretty wealthy. The question is not if you’re going to college but WHERE. They can be kind of judgemental of where you’re going with a strong bias for 4 year colleges. She internalized a lot of that and regrets not thinking more seriously about community college at the time. She was looking at 4 year schools, wanted to stay near seattle and only really looked at schools around there. She didn’t have the grades to get into UW. She gives the advice to apply even if you think you won’t get in. She applied to Seattle Pacific University and went there for her first year. She says it wasn’t the best financial decision. She didn’t really know what she wanted to do. She says see what your goals are, see how much money a school offers you, then see if tuition rates will go up the next year because they are a private school. Check to see how much the tuition changes from year to year and also keep in mind that most students take between 4 and 5 years to graduate. The worst thing that can happen is you drop out in the middle of school, then you don’t have your degree and you have a lot of debt. She also says it’s okay to leave and go to another school that is a better fit. She realized she wanted to teach and realized that and went to WWU which has one of the best teaching programs in the state. #transferstudent #collegesearch #collegeapplication #communitycollege 

25:30 - Harlan asks how many people on the panel have changed their major. Everyone raises their hand except Eileen. 

26:05 - Eileen talks about her journey to WWU. Similar to Carla, Eileen's town was very wealthy. So, the pressure to go to a 4 year university was very present. She always knew she wanted to do graphic design, photography and art. She was lucky that her HS had classes related to that. She’s lucky that she won’t have any debt. But that’s because she has worked 40 hours a week or more since starting college. She is also a 5 year student because of how much she had to work. She says she gets a lot of financial aid since her family is low income. She gets some grants from the state that last 5 years. Washington State has one of the best financial aid programs. She was tempted to drop out because she was burnt out from doing so much. So the extra year was overall worth it than to just drop out. She works as the graphic designer for compass to campus, she also used to do child care at a women’s shelter, she also used to volunteer at a nursing home to teach seniors how to use tech. She recommends working students stick to one job for more hours rather than many jobs for fewer hours. #collegesearch #collegeselection #collegeapplication #payingforcollege #financialaid 

32:40 - Marilin describes her path to college. No one at school talked about applying to college because it was sort of assumed you were going.  She didn’t know anything about college applications, her friends brought up the SAT and she didn’t know what that was. She was the first in her family to go. She spent the first half of her senior year doing everything and she toured western and thought it was an okay fit. She recommends doing a lot more research, look into the Running Start program. You can take community college classes and get college credits out of the way. At Western registration priority is given according to the amount of credits you have. So having some under your belt from Running Start is good so you are bumped up in the registration process and have more selection options. #collegeapplication #collegesearch #collegeselection #communitycollege #runningstart #firstgeneration #firstgen

38:20 - Harlan asks Marilin how she was able to pay for college especially when the process started late. She did the FAFSA and that came through so she was able to get aid from that. She talks about how stressful it was doing the FAFSA all of a sudden one day in school and she didn’t have all the information to fill it out and there was the added layer of complication because of having an undocumented family members. No one at her school knew how to handle her situation, she looked on youtube for advice and had to call the helpline. 
#FAFSA #undocumented #firstgen #financialaid

41:50 - Harlan highlights the point that even though people might think since they don’t have money that they can’t go to college, there are actually lots of resources out there to help people without money to pay for college. Carla chimes in reinforcing a point Eileen made about Washington being one of the best states at providing aid. Carla mentions the WAFSA which is more geared towards students and families with different documentation statuses. It’s specific to the state of Washington. #WAFSA #payingforcollege #financialaid

43:45 - Victor first went to Skagit Valley College first, He highlights something a mentor said to him, that going into higher education doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be smart. It just means that you have more opportunities. He got into AVID advancement via individual determination, which was a helpful program. He applied to UW, WWU and the Art Institute of Seattle. He got rejected. He did poorly on the SAT. He mentions he comes from migrant parents. His parents always wanted him to go to college. He decided to go to Skagit Valley and he’s happy with that decision because he was able to start with “training wheels” on the way to a 4 year university. He assures students it’s alright if you don’t get your BA or AA in the typical time frame. He failed some classes but he was able to form connections and develop his skills.  He was in a program called quick start to college during high school and that allowed him to visit WWU for a few days where he learned about resources. He transferred from Skagit to WWU.  #academics #transferstudent #people #places #communitycollege #badgrades #collegeresources #patience

49:50 - Harlan asks Victor how he made the transition from Skagit to WWU. He developed his social skills and networking by working at the dept of multicultural student services which opened up a lot of opportunities for him and put him in touch with advisors and teachers from other schools. The old director from compass to campus came to his school one day and gave him his business card offering him the opportunity to work with him if he ever came to WWU. He got to know the C2C community and meet others through that. He mentions he’s an undocumented student so he doesn’t have access to the FAFSA but he can use the WAFSA. He’s able to connect with other students in a similar situation like him. He talks about being undocumented and feeling privileged to be protected under DACA. He acknowledges that DACA isn’t the answer as it leaves out a lot of people.
#communitycollege #transferstudent #DACA #FAFSA #WAFSA #financialaid

55:30 - Harlan asks everyone about places. Carla says she found her community from her friend Gabby. From the moment she stepped on campus she bumped into her and she has brought her into a lot of other things like compass to campus. They met at a club fair, they realized that had a class together and Gabby sort of took her under her wing. She emphasizes that a lot of freshmen think that you need to have friends immediately, but it really takes until spring quarter to really connect and have your group. #makingfriends #studentorgs #compass2campus #people #places #patience

59:30 - Victor says it’s easy to get sad during that first semester. Victor was feeling very lonely as a commuter especially. 

1:00:35 - Eileen says her places are compass to campus, Glee club she made a lot of friends there and became a leader. It also helped her embrace her sexuality after coming from a repressed small town. She has gotten lots of work experience. The multicultural center is a great space to go with your friends.
#gleeclub #studentorgs #multiculturalcenter #makingfriends #places

1:02:22 - Eileen speaks some more to sexuality and LGBTQ inclusivity on campus at Western. She says coming to Western was a bit of a culture shock because she had never been asked her pronouns before, had never heard of multiple genders or fluidity. She felt like she found her people in that environment. She also thinks it’s important in college to meet people who you didn’t grow up with and hold different opinions and upbringings and experiences. She talks about how Glee club introduced her to lots of other people who identify somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum and that Western is a pretty safe community where people can be open. #LGBTQ #makingfriends #studentorganizations #campusinvolvement #genderidentity #people #places

1:06:45 - Marilin talks about her places. She joined FIG, a first year group concentrated on wanting to be a teacher. Celina invited her to the mall and sort of became her “Gabby” in that she helped her meet other people and opened up doors for her. The MCC is a welcoming place to hang out too. #firstyear #makingfriends #places #multiculturalcenter

1:09:00 - Marilin took out a loan of about 1000 to live on campus and get a meal plan. She was able to pay off the loan because she has worked through school to pay it off to prevent compounded interest. Harlan asks for advice for the student who is dead set against taking out loans. Marilin talks about some scholarships that are available. She didn’t personally apply for any scholarships because she was so late on the whole process of applying to college.
#studentloans #livingoncampus #payingforcollege #scholarships 

1:11:16 - Victor talks about his places, Blue group is a student club for undocumented students. The writing center, helping other students with their writing has helped him get better at talking to people. Compass to campus is where he met his fellow panelists. MCC multi cultural center is a good designated space for people to feel welcomed no matter what their background is. He talks about learning about things like calling people by their correct pronoun and how he learned that it means a lot for people who maybe didn’t come from a place where they could feel open and secure with their identity that can feel safe and welcome at school because fellow students address them correctly.  #Compass2Campus #writingcenter #undocumented #places #makingfriends #firstgen #firstgeneration 

1:16:23 Harlan adds advice mentioning that he wrote for the campus newspaper which is a great thing for anyone that is shy or uncomfortable. Work for some place where you get credentials, have a job where your work is an assignment that gets you out there talking to people and you have that excuse to communicate. Eileen adds to that saying that she’s happy she has gotten the experiences she has from her jobs such as childcare, learning about low income resources, privacy laws etc. If you’re actively trying to meet new people and make connections, you get what you put into it. #getinvolved #makingfriends #people #places

1:18:45 - Carla talks about what gives her joy. She says she started working with a program called North to Western which is an extension program through compass to campus. She worked with students from local HS students in the Skagit Valley, they help students get credit recovery from failed classes. She adds anytime she works with students is a joyful experience. #joyfulexperience #teaching #compass2campus #people #places

1:20:40 - Carla gives advice to her HS self. She would say things can be really tough but you’ve only lived less than a quarter of your life experience. There’s so much more ahead and so much good coming your way. She says HS was rough but it made her more resilient, it’s amazing how much better life is when your brain fully develops, you get better at taking care of yourself and advocating for yourself, finding the people that support you. #highschooladvice

1:23:50 - Marilin talks about her most uncomfortable experience. She says she just feels uncomfortable all the time. She has to remind herself that baby steps are key, a little progress is better than no progress. COVID was a big struggle for her too. Marilin says Victor and her other friends have been there looking out for her and checking in. #uncomfortablemoment #COVID

1:29:20 - Victor talks about GEAR UP. He took advantage of the ability to go in and do his school work after school. He remembered going on field trips with Manny Espinoza and then getting to know him, Victor started working with him when he moved on to Western. #gearup

1:31:30 - Victor talks about what gives him joy. He remembers having a christmas party at coworkers house. He remembers having fun and joking with friends and he realized how great his team is.  #joyfulexperience 

1:33:57 - Eileen says her joyful moment is when she got into doing portrait photography and offered shots to friends of hers and seeing them enjoy the shoots and getting to bond with friends over that experience and giving them something where they feel good about it and like the way they look and feel in the picture. Harlan asks her about the work she has done in childcare and helping families in need. #joyfulexperience

1:36:19 - Marilin says her moment of joy is actually a person. She gets a lot of joy from her nephew and how it has brought her closer to her siblings. It’s helped her to unlearn some toxic habits and be motivated by them. #joyfulexperience #family

1:38:35 - Marilin gives advice to her HS self. She says she’d tell herself to be more confident. She remembers doubting herself a lot in everything she said or did. Whenever a teacher would call on her she would clam up. #highschooladvice

1:40:42 - Eileen says she’d tell herself to be kind always to everyone. Just because you’re going through a hard time doesn’t mean others aren’t. It’s okay to ask for help. Don’t undervalue yourself and don’t think you don’t deserve what you have. #highschooladvice

1:42:44 - Victor says he would tell himself, be yourself, it’s okay that your way to approach things is not the same as others. Support yourself with other people that care about you. #highschooladvice 

1:45:36  Panelists confirm they’re open to people reaching out to them.  


New York Times bestselling author Harlan Cohen talks with current and recent students about life in college.  For more videos visit BeforeCollegeTV on YouTube.  For more information about Harlan Cohen visit him online at: or follow him on social media: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Tik Tok | LinkedIn | Snapchat (helpmeharlan).

DISCLAIMER: All views expressed by panelists and participants are their own and are in no way endorsed, officially affiliated, or representative of the institution, Harlan Cohen, or BeforeCollegeTV.  All views expressed on panelists social media are not endorsed or affiliated with Harlan Cohen and BeforeCollegeTV.  Students views, opinions, and advice are their own. ALWAYS contact official representatives to verify and validate any information provided