Jen Lara arrived at Bard intending to become a physics major with a future in engineering, but an important part of her Bard education included the realization that other interests were dearer to her heart.
“I saw that my real passion is not in the world of engineering. It doesn’t hold the sparkle for me. I've always been teaching, I have always tutored, I've always worked with nonprofits. I want to work in education in the minority community to see women in STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics]. STEM is where I can use my talents and abilities to do what I'm really passionate about, which is helping my community to do better in these subjects.”
So she is majoring in mathematics, and spent time teaching STEM at a nonprofit and at a local middle school. “Everything in my life revolves around education,” she says.
The daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, and the first in her family to attend college, Lara grew up in the Corona, Queens, neighborhood of New York City. Her adviser convinced her to look at Bard, which, she says, was “the only school” that noted her first-generation status could be empowering rather than limiting. “They said, ‘We need to make a plan and find a space for you to be able to accomplish whatever you want to do. We’ll figure it out and we’ll make it happen.’ It was the first time I thought, ‘I don't have to do things by myself.’”
Lara became a peer counselor (PC) at Bard—someone in the residence halls who is trained to deal with many of her fellow residents’ concerns—which helped bring her out of her shell. “My first year I experienced culture shock, and being a PC has made me more social. I like being a support system for students, and the students are just as much a role model for me as I am for them. I take as much as I give. I tell them, ‘Advocate for yourselves; it’s the best thing that you can do.’”
In addition to being a PC and tutoring, she holds two jobs on campus while carrying her academic load. Nevertheless, she says, “I have students in my residence who run clubs and do athletics and their academics—that’s inspiring to me.”
One surprising thing she has learned at Bard is that “I learn very differently from most students. The time and dedication the faculty invested to help me made me realize that there are many different ways to learn. The strong support system makes sure that the way they are teaching matches the way you are learning.”
She wants students who are interested in Bard to know the kind of education she is receiving in Annandale: “You really learn how to be confident in your abilities and not be hard on yourself when things go wrong,” she advises. “You should be hungry, when you get here, to build the community that you want. The fact that Bard gives you the opportunity to do that is not something you’ll find at any other school.”
“At Bard,” she adds, “you are going to do things that you never thought you were capable of doing. And they might make you feel uncomfortable, but the fact that you can create a support system means you can also create the path that you want to take.”