Thursday, July 31, 2014

[Insert Your Dream Here] - My next book

So, I'm going to officially make this public:

I've just started the process of writing my next book. The working title is [Insert Your Dream Here], and it was inspired by my experience almost, but not quite, getting into Harvard

While Harvard was never my ultimate dream, it was something I certainly thought would give me a huge boost towards moving closer to my dreams. And when it didn't work out, I questioned everything. 

Sure, the logical part of my brain knew that it was an honor to make it to the top 50 and get an interview, and that I could probably get in if I tried again. 

But the non-logical part of me, the part I'm going to call, "the meanie brain", said something like this:

"Isa you're an absolute idiot!!! What in the world ever made you think you could get into Harvard?! Do you know who you are and where you come from? What in the world are you thinking? You think 'dreams' actually come true?! Ha! What an idiot. You're delusional and if you think you're going to actually do anything you dream of doing in your life you're just stupid. Give up all these silly dreams now and just grow up, okay? Life is not about dreams and it's not exciting and you just need to suck it up and give it up."

Harsh, right? 

The logical part of me as well as the dreamer part pushed back against this meanie and led me to read The Alchemist again. It's an allegory about achieving your dreams, and I love it.

However, after reading it, I still found myself wanting to learn more about how all this played out in real life. I wondered:

Are there people out there who've achieved a dream?
How did they overcome their meanie brain?
How did they feel when a failure struck and how did they move forward?
How did they know when they just needed to keep being persistent or when it was time to pivot in some way?
What advice would they give to others who desperately want to achieve a dream, especially in moments when they feel like everything is telling them to give up?
Does the 10,000 hours/10 years theory apply to dreams? 
Can you really achieve something with disciplined focus and work alone?

And the idea for my next book was born.

Over the next few months I'm going to be interviewing 100 people who've reached a big dream that they had.

I've already conducted quite a few interviews with some pretty incredible people, and their insight and advice has already been profound. 

I don't want to give it all away yet, but I do want to leave you with this big insight that is already coming through:

The biggest obstacle to achieving your dreams is you.

So far everyone I've talked to has, without my asking about this issue directly, expressed how difficult it was to overcome their own self-doubt, but how crucial it is to actually getting somewhere you want to go.

I wanted to share this with you now so that, even before my next book comes out (it will probably be a while), you'll know that when you hear that meanie part of your brain you can:

1. Know that you're not alone.
2. Know that its a complete liar.
3. Push past it and keep going. 

That is something all the dreamers I've interviewed so far had in common. They all failed. They all doubted. They all struggled. They all had moments where the "I think I can" idea waned and they thought "what if I can't?" The difference seems to be that they kept going anyway. 


That's the big question. Because their dream was that that important to them. As one interviewee said, there's nothing else he'd rather be trying to do. 

So let me ask you this: 

Why are you in college?

Take some time today to journal an answer that question. Or if you're not in college, journal about what your dream is and why it's important to you.

Then keep it somewhere safe and go back and read it anytime that meanie brain starts to bug you.

And dream on. 


Authors note:

Help me with my next book?
Can you or anyone you know answer "yes" to the following questions? If so, please e-mail me at as I'd love to possibly interview you (or that person) for this book!

1. Have you accomplished a 'big' dream in your life?*
2. Can you define when you first had that dream and describe a moment when you felt that dream had come true?
3. Are you willing to share your experiences with success and failure in the pursuit of your dream with others in a book so that they can be inspired by your story?

*note: the dream can be as general as being successful (though I would want you to describe/specify exactly what that means to you) or as specific as dreaming of getting a certain job or degree. They key is that you can define one particular dream you had, when you first had it, and then what you did to turn it from a dream to a reality. 

Thank you!!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How to pay for college (while I put on many jackets??)

A student recently asked me what she should do after finding out she didn't qualify for work study (where you are given a job on campus in exchange for tuition reduction). 

In the quick video below I share some basic tips for what you should do next to pay for college once you've found out your financial aid situation won't cover everything you hoped it would.

And please share any ideas you have for future videos (or questions you want answered while I do something random) by commenting on this post or sharing your idea in the Ask Isa inbox!

Monday, July 28, 2014

HELP I need your ideas! :)

I'm planning content for this fall and I would LOVE to get your help. I just got a new camera and am going to try to do some more YouTube videos this year, but I can't do it without YOU.

Check out the video below and either comment with your ideas on this blog or submit them to the anonymous Ask Isa inbox.

I want to help you this year by sharing content that can really help you  move forward in your life (college or career) as well as try to make you smile in the process. 

I really appreciate any ideas you can share or any questions you have! Thanks a million. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

#SoCanU: An artist gets her start at community college

Featured below is an interview with another #SoCanU project rockstar, Angelica! Angelica graduated from Seminole State College of Florida in 2011 and graduated from Stetson University with a bachelor's degree in art. She currently is an artist at Gallery on First, an illustrator for a children's book, and an assistant art director for a short film.

Favorite thing to do on the weekends?
Hang out with friends, which usually involves going to local art shows, concerts, and community events

Favorite food/meal?
Falafel, greek food, pizza, ice cream

What made you decide to choose community college?
It may sound negative, but I chose community college out of ignorance. I had absolutely no knowledge of how to apply to a big college nor did I think I could get in. 

I also I didn't think I could afford any other institution. It provided comfort and familiarity since my brother and everyone in my close social circle chose community college.

Were there any obstacles in your life prior to attending community college that you had to overcome? 
I was very self-concious and ashamed to smile because I had crooked teeth, I was very shy and insecure because of this, which affected my confidence a lot. 

It was my junior year in high school that I decided to stop feeling bad about my self and got a job at Haggen-Dazs so I could pay for braces. With my Dad's help, I made an appointment at an orthodontist and after a lot of discomfort and awkward drooling, two years later I got my braces out and payed off my debt. 

Through this experience my confidence skyrocketed not only because I was able to smile with no boundaries but also because I had done it myself, I payed for it myself. I consider it my first victory where I took full responsibility of something that made me feel insecure. This is the approach I take on whatever problem/obstacle I have now, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I try my best to take initiative and reach out to resources.

What obstacles did you overcome in community college and/or in your transfer university to achieve your degree?
I was never the type of girl that got involved, (I was a hermit in high school) but once I became friends with people who were at Seminole State College, I realized the importance of taking a leadership role and learning to advocate for things I was passionate about, like my heritage. 

I felt part of something bigger and with purpose, It made my experience so much richer. I became friends with people I would usually not talk to. 

As far as my experience at my university, I felt very much out of place. Most of the time I was alone...However, part of that experience helped me put all my time and effort into my senior thesis, where I excelled at and was very proud to show.

What is one of the most important things that helped you succeed in community college and beyond?
Getting involved in the Hispanic Student Association, and Seminole State Volunteers. It was through these organizations that I broke out of my comfort zone and had the chance to attend leadership retreats that helped me learn my strengths and weaknesses. 

I understood the impact of my involvement in the community as well as my role as a leader for my peers. I would also say that the quality of mentors pushed me to embrace my strengths and believe I could become an artist. 

The professors I had also made a huge impact, since the art program was so small the professors provided close attention to our progress and gave all their support.

What are you most excited about for your future right now?
Grad school and traveling, now that I have gotten some exposure locally and I have experienced artistic success I feel very confident and motivated to continue my pursuits in a higher institution.

My goal is to study abroad and hopefully receive my master's in London, Chicago, or New York. I am ready to explore my horizons.

What is the best piece of advice you can give our readers who are currently attending community college?
To look past the stereotypes of a community college and to fully take advantage of the resources and opportunities that are offered; like joining clubs, leading clubs, creating relationships with professors and staff. 

Being fully involved academically and socially is what gets you scholarships and sets you apart from students who limit their experience to be solely academic. 
I know it can be a challenge specially if you have a job but it is possible. 

Once you start applying to other colleges and universities they look at what you have done and how you have performed in previous institutions, so it's only to your advantage to take advantage. It's full circle.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The SKiNNY on College Completion!

#SoCanU: From remedial math to calculus

Featured below is an interview with another #SoCanU project rockstar, Sarah! Sarah graduated from Lake Sumter State College May 2014 and is currently pursuing her bachelor's in global business at the University of South Florida. 

Favorite thing to do on the weekends?
Lay out in the sun with some friends or go to the beach and relax.

Favorite food/meal?
Anything Italian... sooo I'd say chicken Alfredo!

What made you decide to choose community college?
So I could stay home, save money, still be with my friends and family while I needed to grow up a little.

What obstacles did you overcome in community college and/or in your transfer university to achieve your degree?
I really struggled in math when I got to college. I didn't like math all my life, until I had an amazing professor. I went from remedial math to calculus! I even tutor math now.

I also have a learning disability called dyslexia. It is a reading learning disability that can hinder a lot. I never let that be an excuse and never will even though I will have this disability my entire life.

What are you most excited about for your future right now?
What is most exciting is that I have so many goals and I'm already fulfilling them. The crazy part is, is that I have no idea where life with take me and I'm okay with that.

What is the best piece of advice you can give our readers who are currently attending community college?
Never give up, don't let others make decisions for you. Don't be a follower, if you have something to say...say it! You can do anything you set your mind to, if you really want it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#SoCanU: From teen mom with two kids to mom with two master's degrees

Featured below is an interview with another #SoCanU project rockstar, Shartelle! Shartelle graduated from Mt. San Jacinto College in 1998 and now has two master's degrees. 

What is your current job? 
I work as a Generalist Counselor at Mt. San Jacinto College. 

Favorite thing to do on the weekends?
My favorite weekends are when I get to go wakeboarding in Mexico. Also, I love to be in the sun hanging out by the pool with friends and family.

Favorite food/meal? 
I love all types of food but especially Italian. 

What made you decide to choose community college? 
I graduated from a pregnant teen school and I was first generation student. I didn’t know much about going to college so I chose a college that was close to home. I had to work and take care of two small children so the community college was convenient plus it was inexpensive. At the time, I didn’t know there were financial resources for college students. 

Were there any obstacles in your life prior to attending community college that you had to overcome? 
Having two children by the time I was nineteen and having to work two jobs while going to school was very difficult. 

Also, I struggled with reading and writing so I had to build the foundation. I took remedial courses in college to improve my reading and writing skills. 

What obstacles did you overcome in community college and/or in your transfer university to achieve your degree?
There were a lot of sleepless nights, car problems and troubles finding a babysitter. I would study when my children went to sleep. 

As far as my car, I had to have people push start it for me or park it on a hill. It was awful. I worked extra hours to buy a newer car. 

I also had difficulties finding a babysitter but no matter how difficult it got I would find a way to get to school. My mother always stated, “If there is a will there is a way,” which encouraged me. 

What is one of the most important things that helped you succeed in community college and beyond? 
I had a counselor who was my mentor. She believed in me along the way. She always encouraged me and when I doubted myself she was there for me. Also, if I didn’t have my parents and friends’ support, I do not think that I would have ever made it through college. 

What are you most excited about for your future right now? 
I really enjoy my career. I wake up excited to go to work and help community college students. 

What is the best piece of advice you can give our readers who are currently attending community college? 
Believe in yourself, you can do anything that you set your mind to. Even when difficulties come, if you stay focused and never give up, you will accomplish your goal. 

I think it is very important to connect with a mentor and develop a support system. Also, you should surround yourself with people who believe that you can accomplish your educational goals.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

#SoCanU: From struggling in HS to a master's degree

Featured below is an interview with another #SoCanU project rockstar, Debbie! Debbie graduated from St. Louis Community College in December 2011 and received a bachelor's in speech communication from Webster University in May 2013. She will graduate with her master's this December!

What is your favorite thing to do on the weekends?
It depends on the season. Now that it is summer, I like to take advantage of what St. Louis has to offer. Urban hiking, new foods, concerts in the park, the Muny, zoo, float trips and so much more!

Favorite food/meal?
Mexican food or Panda Express (Whataburger if I'm in the south).

What made you decide to choose community college?
I was not a good high school student. I had attended three high schools in three different states. I felt I needed to start somewhere small to test the waters and see if I was even college material.

What obstacles did you overcome in community college and/or in your transfer university to achieve your degree?
The only obstacles I fought and won were the people around me telling me I was doing too much and why bother with this society called Phi Theta Kappa. At my age I shouldn't bother with it. I should just go to school and be done.

What is one of the most important things that helped you succeed in community college and beyond?
Stay involved!!!!! Phi Theta Kappa, Pi Kappa Delta (debate team) and community service. Learn from the classroom and learn from life. Build your resume and build your character.

What are you most excited about for your future right now?
Now that I have found things I love doing, it's time for someone to pay me for doing them. Searching for the right career with the right pay and the right culture.

What is the best piece of advice you can give our readers who are currently attending community college?
Never give up and use the obstacles and hardships as part of your experience. Fight for your education. Remember it's not just to improve your life but the lives of those around you. If you are setting your goals and driving to achieve them, you are already AWESOME!

Monday, July 21, 2014

#SoCanU: From community college to Georgetown

Featured below is an interview with another #SoCanU project rockstar, Febin! Febin graduated from SUNY Rockland Community College in May 2014 and will be transferring to Georgetown University to pursue a bachelor's degree in finance this fall.

Favorite thing to do on the weekends?
I love to play basketball, work out, and spend time with friends & family.

 Favorite food/meal?
 I love Indian food, especially chicken tikka masala with naan bread!

What made you decide to choose community college?
After a period of deep soul searching, I decided that it was best to pursue an Associate’s Degree and transfer into a four year college. That was the first, and by far the best option that was available to me at the time and I am more than happy that I made that decision. 

SUNY Rockland offered an outstanding education at an affordable price as well as a strong, diverse community in which I could thrive both academically and socially. The endless opportunities that SUNY Rockland provides over other local community colleges were more than enough reasons to enroll.

Were there any obstacles in your life prior to attending community college that you had to overcome?
When I was 12 years old, I moved to Monroe NY and carried a lot of bad habits throughout my middle school and high school years. It really shaped who I was as a student. I was really unmotivated as far as what I wanted to do with my life, and I graduated high school at the bottom 10% of my class, with a 1.2 GPA. 

Although the transition from high school to college was arduous, I quickly found myself surrounded by mentors who took me under their wing despite my regretful high school record. 

With their guidance, I earned a 3.5GPA and enrolled in the nationally recognized Mentor/Talented Student Honors Program. I made a decision to change my life around and not only prove to myself that I can succeed, but to prove to all of the naysayers who tried to put me down. 

This served as my motivation to excel in my schoolwork and get on the path to a bright future, and is precisely what keeps me going through the long nights of studying hard and pushing myself.

What obstacles did you overcome in community college and/or in your transfer university to achieve your degree?
Throughout the fall 2013 semester, my father was hospitalized after suffering a stroke. During that semester, seconds felt like hours, days felt like months, and months felt like years. 

Over those months, I transformed into a surrogate father figure from cooking meals for my family, to working endless hours at a retail store to help my mother pay the bills. This experience forced me to quickly snap out of my “high school mind-set”, be mature, and step up to the plate to become the man of the family and care for my mother. 

I came to the realization that there were lessons to be learned from his absence, as I was able to experience a role few could share or understand. I belonged to a different world now, a world of leadership and responsibility and was able to overcome this obstacle that could’ve negatively affected my academics.

What is one of the most important things that helped you succeed in community college and beyond?
Throughout my time in SUNY Rockland Community College’s M/TS Honors Program, I’ve learned how to multi-task and balance a rigorous honors program cirriculum and volunteering/working outside of school, while concurrently serving as the President of Alpha Beta Gamma International Business Honor Society, President of the Economics Club, Vice President of Leadership at Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society, Vice President of Just Save One RCC, as well as being a peer mentor and a tutor on campus. 

I’ve learned how to balance everything out and it sharpened my time-management skills significantly. This has been one of the most important things that I’ve learned at SUNY Rockland Community College.

What are you most excited about for your future right now?
 I am really excited to spend the next few years of my life at the nation’s capital. I feel as if I am on a mountain overlooking my future. Georgetown is going to allow me to reach my full potential and grow as a person. It has been my dream school since I joined the Honors program at SUNY Rockland Community College. 

What is the best piece of advice you can give our readers who are currently attending community college?
 Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve anything that you put your mind to. You are in control of your own future, and the key to succeeding in your endeavors is to stay motivated and balance out work and fun. Work hard, play hard, and keep your “eyes on the prize.”

College Freshman Pep Talk (Part 3 of 5)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An open letter to first generation college students


My name is Isa and I'm a first generation college graduate. 

Traditionally, that means I was the first in my family to get a bachelor's degree. I also have a master's degree.

I started in community college, and my sophomore year I won the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship, which provided me $30,000 per year to finish my bachelor's degree and $50,000 for a master's degree.

I fell weak at the knees and wept when I found out the news. All that kept running through my head was this:

"People like me don't get master's degrees."

Where did that come from? I later thought.

I was a high achiever. And this was America for goodness sake. I could be anything I wanted to be, even President, right?

But somewhere, deep down, in a place I didn't even know existed, I had internalized the messages, the media, and the scripts I'd seen around me.

Logically, anyone who succeeds is a "person" like me. I knew that of course. But, logical or not, we tend to group ourselves into types of people, and sometimes we tell ourselves what we can or cannot do based on that.

And worst of all, sometimes others (e.g. society) try to group us or tell us what we can or cannot do.


None of my grandparents had an education past the fourth grade. I wouldn't be here today if not for their hard work.

Also, I'm biracial: one parent is Puerto Rican and the other is White. When asked my race I was always confused that I had to check "White." I didn't feel totally White. Then when I got to ethnicity I could check Hispanic. Though I never totally felt like that either; I loved rice and beans, but I didn't speak Spanish and couldn't, for the life of me, roll my r's.

 I never felt like I knew how to be politically correct even when talking about myself. I still don't.

So when the phrase"people like me" popped into my head for the first time, I think I had somehow internalized all of the above. While I was still trying to figure out who I was, somewhere without my knowing it I had put a ceiling on myself.

I was recently at a Harvard Institute on the Achievement Gap and one of the professors told a story about the fleas in a glass jar experiment. Essentially, fleas were put in a jar without a lid and they quickly jumped out. They were put back in, this time with a lid. They tried to jump out but were stopped by the lid.

Eventually, the fleas adjusted their jumping height so they wouldn't hit the lid. When the experimenter took the lid off, the fleas didn't jump out. They couldn't understand the limits were gone because they'd already adjusted their expectations.


I'm writing this crazy letter (off the beaten path from my normal tone) because I just finished reading a book on youth development that talked about racial and ethnic identity development as well as what people go through when they are socially mobile (i.e. first generation college students who break barriers in their family).

The book poignantly put into words a certain moments in  my university experience that I never quite understood.

Moments where I couldn't figure out why I didn't feel like I had any really close friends. Moments where I didn't understand why I wasn't bonding with people. Moments when I had to look up what Seven for All Mankind was (a humanities course?) and moments where I thought maybe something was wrong with me.

The book I just finished on development made me want to cry. For good reasons. I felt validated. It talked about how those who break barriers and are socially mobile can feel a lot of strife when they make that leap, especially when they are the first in their family to do so or are transcending to an economically/socially "upperclass" place that is foreign and uncomfortable.

After reading this, no joke, I ran across my apartment to my computer. And that brings me to this moment.

I realized if I felt this way after reading this passage then there must be others who feel the same, and I can't bear that they might have to experience another second of feeling alone in this.

I wish I could tell you, like in my traditional blog posts, exactly what to do to make this better. To fit in as you break barriers. To magically feel comfortable all the time.

But I can't.

What I can tell you is this:

It will be uncomfortable. It will be hard. But here is what I want  you to remember.

In moments when you feel like you aren't fitting in, it most likely means you're a trailblazer.

I'm going to say that again:

In moments when you feel like you aren't fitting in, it most likely means you're a trailblazer.

This is the part of the American Dream no one really talks about. That sometimes it's really uncomfortable and really hard and sometimes you wonder why you're striving so much in the first place, if it's really worth it.

That's why I'm writing this. For any of you who've ever felt that. I want to tell you three very important things, so listen closely:

1) You are not alone.

2) Keep going.

3) Thank you.

Thank you for doing this. For getting through the tough stuff. For not giving up. Because when you keep going you become one more person for another to look to and say "hey, people like me can do this!"

It defies all logic. We know we're not fundamentally different based on how we look or how much money we have.

But it doesn't change the fact that it's powerful and affirming to have a role model you can identify with. And for too may groups of people, whether self-defined or societally defined, that's not always the case in our mass mediated culture.

So if you can't find the role model, the person like you doing what you're doing, or the person like you at your college, it just might mean you're doing something profoundly important for all of us.

Don't stop.



Monday, July 14, 2014

College Freshman Pep Talk - Part 2

I've been getting a ton of e-mails from students about to start their freshman year of community college and they're FREAKING OUT because they're so freaked out about what college is going to be like. I can relate, so I wanted to address all of you here.

Part 2 shares the first most important thing you should do your first semester of college.

Monday, July 7, 2014

College Freshman Pep Talk (Part 1 of 5)

Dedicated to all of you who've emailed and messaged me scared out of your mind about your first semester of college. You can do this!! :)

The cycle of success: how to reach up and out

I was recently inspired by the video below which stemmed from a GradNation report about why students really leave high school. It features student voices, explaining, in short, that they don't leave because they don't care - it's often because life gets in the way.

I've heard very similar stories when it comes to community college students. The tagline for this blog (see above) was inspired by just that - I've found it's often life circumstances (not any inherent levels of intelligence) that make the difference between those who go to community college versus straight to a four-year university.

The GradNation Report, "Don't Call Them Dropouts" lists some important ideas for making sure we don't miss out on the talent of students for whom life makes education more difficult than some of us can ever imagine.

Many of those recommendations involve other people:

"To meet long-term goals like staying in or going back to school...young people needed more than their own perseverance; they need to 'reach up.'...young people began to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally when they were able to connect to individuals and institutions that support them."

I believe this idea is transcendent - we all need to feel supported and connected in every stage of our lives; but it seems that strong foundation is crucial in our earliest years.

Some of us happen to be born into situations where we get support and connection directly from our families and communities. But too many are left behind and then judged without considering what they've had to endure. 

I love the idea of "reaching up," as if you've read my book you know that's what it's all about. Most of my work revolves around the idea of teaching students how to reach up, how to ask for help, and why no one is successful alone. 

It's so easy to tell ourselves that if we aren't successful in a particular moment that maybe it means we're just not cut out for whatever that thing we're trying to do is (e.g. like if you fail a test or drop out of high school). However, most of the time it might mean you just don't have the right supports and strategies. 

I could go on and on about this idea, but since that's basically what I do in my book, I just want to leave you with two things you can act on right now:

1. Who do you need to "reach up" to today to ask for help in accomplishing your #1 goal for this year? 

If you're not sure, think about something you really want to accomplish, and then ask yourself how you can find someone who's already accomplished it to ask for their advice. Some great places to start looking for that person are: LinkedIn, Twitter, teachers, professors, family members, alumni networks, and your college career center.

Contact them right now!

2. What organization in your community can you reach out to in order to become a mentor to a high school or college student? 

If you're not sure, check out this awesome search tool via to easily find mentoring organizations in your community. 

Can you imagine what the world would look like if each one of us reached up and out? 

I encourage you to get going today so you can see what happens when you decide to build a community to support your own success, and then use that success to help support the success of others.

It's one of the most beautiful cycles there is.