“One bad grade doesn’t define me as a student. I told myself that I deserved to be here at college and one class as an incoming freshman wouldn’t determine my future.”

It is easy to see that Katrina Verduzco, a senior at the University of Arizona, is a student who stays connected and informed and perseveres through big challenges. “Early in my college career, I received an email that I had been put on academic warning and was at risk of losing my financial aid. At that moment, I felt like it was over and I wouldn’t be able to go to UA. Fortunately, I had a mentor who encouraged me to write an appeal and it was approved.” This rough start helped to ground Katrina and has inspired her to share her story with other students who are just getting started and adapting to the college environment. “As I was beginning my junior year, I was asked to be a peer mentor for Earn to Learn. It was a great way to communicate important information to incoming freshmen, especially what resources are available and where to find them.”

As an active participant in the Earn to Learn program, Katrina feels there is a benefit to staying engaged. “An opportunity like Earn to Learn seems unreal when you first hear about it, but the power of saving became very real for me. I learned a lot through coaching, financial education courses, workshops, and volunteering. Basically, if you’re willing to make the effort, it all pays off.”

Making and fostering connections is part of who Katrina is, but everything really crystallized after her senior year in high school when she started working at Starbucks. “After helping out with a Kickstarter project for teachers, I was invited to a Career Cafe. I learned how to bring my best in an interview and decided to practice those skills on the spot. I approached one of the Starbuck micro-mentors, John, who is a manager. He introduced me to Katie McKay and the rest is history. I started working at the Tucson Mall location and had the opportunity to grow in confidence, leadership and customer service in the 2 ½ years I worked there.”

Throughout college, Katrina has continued to seize the moment and connect with leaders in her network. “As part of the inaugural class, I felt compelled to reach out and thank those that made the Earn to Learn scholarship possible. I started with getting to know our Executive Director, Kate Hoffman, who is an amazing speaker and mentor. What she has done for me and so many other students is incredible.” Katrina continued reaching out and spoke with Rick Myers from the Arizona Board of Regents and Kellie Terhune Neely from Hughes Federal Credit Union and the Earn to Learn Board of Directors. “Each opportunity is a chance to say thank you and learn from those who have achieved success in their life.” Katrina credits the advice she’s received from community leaders for her own academic and personal success. She also has a strong personal network that includes her mentor, Raul Aguirre of REA Media Group, and her family.

Katrina will be graduating this May 2017 in communications. “It is such a great feeling to be graduating. I am first generation and as the oldest of three siblings I am excited for the new futures we all will have now.” Katrina takes both pride and pleasure in sharing her story and passion for higher education. She has shared this with her siblings, friends, through the ETL peer mentor program and now in a new position at Youth On Their Own. “I began my AmeriCorps position with YOTO as their college & career access specialist in February. I am such a big advocate for youth and jumped at this opportunity to give back. In this position, I will help YOTO kids find resources, knowledge and support to go to college or find their career. It has been a new experience that allows me to challenge myself to learn skills, ask questions, and think outside the box. I am very glad that I have the opportunity to work with this organization and I look forward to the great work we will continue to do in the Tucson community.”

Katrina’s experiences have perfectly prepared her for sharing a positive message with youth. We applaud Katrina for having the courage to persevere and problem solve, and thank her for her support in growing the Earn to Learn program.

Note: Youth On Their Own (YOTO) is a dropout prevention program that supports the high school graduation and continued success of homeless, unaccompanied youth in Pima County. Through a unique partnership, YOTO youth can easily enroll in the Earn to Learn scholarship program.

Posted on: March 21, 2017