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Going Places

Con Mi Madre girls

Mother-daughter program helps Latinas pursue college

Cristabella Trimble-Quiz, a linguistics and Chinese senior, stops for a snapshot during her study abroad adventure in Taiwan.
Cristabella Trimble-Quiz, a linguistics and Chinese senior, stops for a snapshot during her study abroad adventure in Taiwan.

Upon first impression, one could easily assume that Irais Romero has always aspired to attend graduate school and do something great with her life. Poised and articulate, she exudes a quiet confidence when she talks about her plans for medical school.

However, it wasn’t too long ago when she set her mind on becoming a hairstylist—not necessarily the right fit for a girl who loves science.

“College just seemed too out of reach,” says Romero, now a UT Austin neuroscience senior.  “It wasn’t mentioned at home, so I decided to get my license in cosmetology and start working right away.”

That changed a few years ago when she and her mother joined Con Mi Madre, a nonprofit located at UT Austin’s School of Social Work that helps girls and their mothers prepare for college. A longtime community partner of the DDCE, the program is helping thousands of young girls (600-700 per year) become the first in their families to attend college. The partnership is a natural fit for the DDCE, which is home to several programs that are helping underrepresented students of color prepare for success in college and beyond.

Keeping with its name (Spanish for “with my mother”), the program requires participants—including dads and other family members—to work as a team. Together, they go to leadership summits, visit college campuses, get counseling and mentoring, and learn the ropes of college admissions in workshops and meetings.

The goal is to plant a seed early on—starting in the sixth grade—to get both mothers and daughters into the college-going mindset. This can prove to be a challenging task due to the barriers young Latinas face, such as family expectations, financial obligations and legal restrictions. The key to their success, says Con Mi Madre Executive Director Dr. Teresa Granillo, is to get the mothers on board.

“If we want to make an impact, we need to focus on the mom,” says Granillo. “To create a cultural shift, all it takes is one Latina to change the entire family. If Mom has a degree, the question isn’t if but when her child will go to college.”

Con Mi Madre Executive Director Dr. Teresa Granillo smiles for the camera with a group of college-bound young Latinas.
Con Mi Madre Executive Director Dr. Teresa Granillo smiles for the camera with a group of college-bound young Latinas.

Granillo speaks from personal experience. Like Romero, she was raised in a low-income household by a single mom who didn’t have a college degree. To this day, she still remembers the moment when a little tough love galvanized her desire to make a better life for herself.

“I see myself in these girls,” Granillo says. “I remember my mom would tell me, ‘If you don’t want this life, go get an education.’” Like most mothers in the program, she didn’t know what that entailed, but I followed her advice and earned my Ph.D.”

Her story is the kind that offers valuable lessons to both mothers and daughters alike. She wants them to see that they can and will get through college with a lot of hard work and determination. She brings this message home by surrounding them with college-educated staff—all Latinas—and graduate student mentors in the in the School of Social Work.

“We believe that these girls need multiple examples of success so they don’t think that a Latina with a Ph.D. is just an anomaly,” Granillo says. “We also make sure that our mentors have the background and experience to successfully guide them through the process and help them achieve their goals.”

Inspired by her supportive mentors, Romero is already returning the favor as a student mentor in the Summer Bridge Program within the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence and with College Forward, a non-profit college-coaching program.

Cristabella Trimble-Quiz, a senior studying linguistics and Chinese at UT Austin, also feels the call to pay it forward. A finalist for the Fulbright Scholar Program, she attributes much of her success to her extended Con Mi Madre family members.

“Con Mi Madre has been helping my family for so many years,” says Trimble-Quiz, who recruited her little sister, a UT Austin linguistics freshman, to the program.  “Now I want to give back in any way that I can.”

Both Cristabella and her sister Graciela aspire to learn new languages and travel abroad—dreams they will soon realize with some help from the program’s annual $1,000 scholarship.

Like a proud mother, Granillo beams when she talks about her students’ accomplishments. She has clearly found her niche in helping young women work toward a better, brighter future. Her hope is that students in the program will feel just as happy and fulfilled in their future careers.

“I can’t think of a better way to use my degree and experiences than to give back to the population that I came from and care so much about,” says Granillo, smiling. “All they need is an opportunity. Once you give it to them, they will take it with both hands and run.”