Spark Alumni Spotlight with Rosario Rivera

Rosario Rivera joined CPE’s program in 2012 as a rising high school freshman attending Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, MD. After being accepted to Stone Ridge, Rosario’s middle school vice principal recommended she apply for CPE’s program. Her vice principal knew that as the eldest daughter of a single, immigrant mother, Rosario would need all the support she could get to accomplish her goal of attending college and building a successful career. Throughout high school, Rosario attended all of CPE’s weekend workshops, which had different focuses (financial literacy, college readiness, career readiness, etc.), as well as the “extra” events, like volunteering at local soup kitchens. CPE helped Rosario grow as an individual, ready to take on college and the “real word” while also making lasting friendships along the way.

Rosario graduated magna cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa from Lafayette College in May 2020. She is currently a Business Immigration Analyst at Fragomen (DC) and hopes to attend law school in the coming years.

What’s one memorable moment you have of you and your mentor?

Not to be cliché, but there are too many! Emily and I have been paired for 10 years. There were many times in our relationship when we were not in the same place, or even in the same time zone, but we always stayed in touch.

Emily and her husband moved to NYC in July 2019. At this point it must have been a little over a year since we had last seen each other, so we decided that we had to meet up. Luckily, NYC was only about a 1.5-hour bus ride from my school. So, after track practice on a Saturday morning in November, I rushed down to the bus station and met Emily and her husband at Chelsea Market to do what we do best – eat! I just turned 21-years-old, so we also grabbed a drink together to celebrate before I returned to campus. There is nothing better than catching up with your best friend, even after years, and feeling like no time has passed at all.

How did your mentor help you with the college application process?

Although Emily was living in Frankfurt, Germany in 2015, she was always a text or phone call away. I am the first person in my family to attend and graduate from college, so I always felt very lost in the college admissions process – especially when it came to applying for financial aid. Emily was able to both empathize with my situation and share her own process for getting through it; her emotional and practical support were invaluable to me during that stressful time.

A former staff person at CPE nominated me for the POSSE Foundation scholarship, which I was eventually awarded. Emily took the time to hear about my anxieties before interviews and during the waiting periods.

What college did you go to and what career path did you choose?

I went to Lafayette College in Easton, PA. I had never heard of it prior to pursuing the POSSE, but it ended up being the perfect place for me. I double majored in Classical Civilization and Govt/Law & Spanish. My goal is to become an immigration attorney, so I always sought out legal internships and am currently a paralegal at Fragomen.

How did COVID effect your last year of college?

I was a senior when COVID hit. At Lafayette, I was a thrower on our track team, and we were unable to have our last season. I still remember thinking, “oh, we’ll be back in a couple of weeks” after I returned to Maryland in March of 2020 – boy, was I wrong. I was lucky in the sense that my course load that semester was light – consisting of two seminars and a religious studies course – but the transition to online courses was hard for me and I felt very unmotivated for months. At the same time, I was very stressed about finding a job. I had had some solid leads prior to the pandemic, but they all vanished suddenly as companies instilled hiring freezes. Being at home, I sometimes felt like a burden to my mom, who is an essential worker and the sole provider for my family.

All this to say, that I, like many students, felt unmotivated and constantly worried about the future. COVID significantly impacted all our lives, and I think it’s really hard to put that into words.

How did CPE and your mentor help get you through that challenging time?

Emily was my number one fan in my job hunt – before and during the pandemic, even now! Again, just knowing she was available for any questions, resume review, salary negotiation advice was reassuring. Beyond that, Emily and I know each other’s families and so it was nice to check in with each other to see how everyone was doing. We would often catch up on Sunday afternoons.

Has the pandemic made it hard to secure employment as a recent graduate?

When I graduated in May 2020, a lot of companies were simply not hiring. I mentioned earlier that I had has some strong leads before the pandemic and I would like to add that I followed up with those companies almost every month with an updated resume and note reiterating my interest in the position, to no avail. Eventually, I started applying to temping agencies and was placed with an amazing global healthcare non-profit in Silver Spring. The position was virtual, and I worked on a project related to COVID-19 management/response for an oil company in Equatorial Guinea – who would have thought?! I kept applying for other positions, particularly with the government or private firms in the legal sector and after 3 months, I received an offer to join a union-side labor firm in DC.

After about a year, I felt it was time to move on and landed my dream job with Fragomen. Emily was instrumental in building my confidence to apply for a new position, when I was already at a very solid job. As the oldest daughter of immigrants, I feel like I tend to prefer to stay in what’s comfortable and almost felt greedy even considering applying for another position, but I had reached my maximum potential and knew that I would not be able to look at myself if I didn’t at least apply for a position with Fragomen.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I’ve ever received, unsurprisingly, is from Emily. When I was considering making a move in my career, I was stressed about how I would handle interviewing and eventually joining a new firm while I was still working. I was stressed about two things – negotiating my salary and turning in my two weeks’ notice. The thing is, I was stressed before I had even gotten an offer. My mind was racing, thinking of every possible scenario – it was a lot. Emily told me, “Don’t solve for a problem you don’t have.” Instead of wasting my energy on hypotheticals, I started focusing on what was concrete and the immediate next step. Total game-changer. Thanks, Emily!