2022 Library/Learning Resource Center: Justin Urquilla

Student Justin Urquilla poses in front of library wearing Cypress College graduation regalia.

Justin Urquilla’s curiosity has fueled his route to higher education. Although his motivation was hampered by insecurities in coming to terms with his queer identity, he took some time to build himself back up and reenter college with a new determination.

Now, Justin has branched out beyond his classes. He is helping other students through Supplemental Instruction. He has participated in the Undergraduate Research Experience at California State University, Fullerton. And he says he has fostered friendships that have enriched his experience in and out of the classroom, and have kept him going on this long road to academic success. A little curiosity, mixed with hard work and support, can go a long way.

Please tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? What are your interests? What is your story?

I am a first-generation American that was born and raised in California. Being one of the first in my family to complete any kind of higher education created a new trajectory for what I thought was possible. Growing up, the fact that I always asked “Why?” got me into trouble at home, however, in school it was something that was nurtured and celebrated. Although I suffered from severe separation anxiety, even until the 5th grade (yes, I wanted my mommy), I was still excited to be in the classroom. I quickly learned that while I was curious about all things, I was more interested about the world around me.

Coming to Cypress College would be my second attempt at pursuing higher education. When I first started college, I was under the carefully managed perception that I wanted to be a doctor, however, I learned that I did not enjoy studying biology. Furthermore, I was coming to terms with my queer identity. My internal struggle with accepting myself and allowing my family to embrace this new part of my identity caused me to shut everyone out. I had plunged into darkness and lost interest in my academics. I eventually dropped out and had convinced myself that academia was not meant for me.

After a year of introspection and having hard conversations with my family, I learned to no longer question their love and acceptance. More importantly, I learned to forgive myself for falling into a period of despair. Coming back to Cypress College, I was ready to explore my true interests and indulge in my academic journey.

What are you most passionate about? Why?

From my experience dealing with insecurities and self-doubt because of my identity, I have become extremely passionate about creating inclusive environments. As a Supplemental Instructor, I have been able to foster these environments and tailor my explanations of various topics to different learning styles. Being queer and Latinx, it’s easy to feel alone in pursuing higher education. It happened to me when I first started college. These feelings are not sustainable and eat away at your drive. By leading my SI sessions and my personal academic journey with compassion and openness to diversity, my hope is to alleviate any sentiment of being alone as we journey together toward personal fulfillment.

Why did you choose Cypress College?

Another reason why I left my previous institution was because of finances. Coming to Cypress College, I felt that I had more opportunities to explore my options without financial constraints. I didn’t know what I wanted to pursue. After leaving school for a year, I didn’t think I deserved a second chance so coming to Cypress College was my first step back.

What have you been involved in at Cypress College? How has your path unfolded?

I have been a Supplemental Instructor for Calculus II under Professor Tran and currently for Physics 222 under Dr. Brinda. I feel confident about the world around me when it is explained in numbers and being under the mentorship of both Dr. Brinda and Professor Hoa Tran has been pivotal in discovering what path is right for me. Ultimately, I found that I love Physics. It was the perfect intersection between math and science. Being a Supplemental Instructor, I learned how much I valued seeing other people understand historically hard concepts. This is when I discovered a new love for teaching. I have also been involved with the (STEM)2 program where I again was able to foster a sense of community with other students pursuing opportunities in STEM.

Share a memorable event or experience while you’ve been a Cypress College student.

A memorable event would have to be my first physics class with Professor Hall. I remember I was super nervous to start my physics sequence since at the time I had never had a physics class and thought I would suck. I was placed in a group with Bradi and another student. I confided in her and was telling her how nervous I was about taking the course. Needless to say, we became study buddies for the remainder of the semester and have been friends since then. I have been extremely proud and honored to have my academic journey alongside some amazing people. If it weren’t for my friends, I don’t think I would have had the success that I currently share with them. Thank you so much Bradi and Ann!

Who are the faculty and staff (in your major, an academic or other support program, etc.) who have helped you get where you are today?

I would like to thank Professor Tran for introducing me to SI, it opened my eyes to future career paths.

I would like to thank Professor De Roo and Professor Tran for constantly indulging my emails and guiding me in the right direction.

Thank you, Professor Hall, for making my introduction to physics a great experience. Attending your office hours was always a pleasure.

Thank you, Dr. Brinda, for mentoring me as your SI and leading me to become a better problem solver.

Thank you, Dr. Cassens, for making me feel seen and included. You helped me realize and appreciate everything that I am, as both a student and individual.

Thank you, Rachel Ghatikar, for checking up on me and making sure that I am aware of various scholarship opportunities.

Thank you, Janelle Salinas and the whole SI team, for being such a great support system. You are all so bright and it is an honor to work alongside you all.

Thank you, Dr. Chen, for making me feel confident in my academic journey and expanding my horizons as I contemplated areas of study.

How has Cypress College supported you throughout your time at the college?

The amazing staff has been a tremendous help. I honestly didn’t think that academics, let alone STEM was going to work out. Being under the guidance of some amazing professors, however, has solidified my confidence as I transfer to a 4-year institution. With the many partnerships that Cypress College has with other institutions, I was able to fully explore my fields of interest both in the classroom and through extracurricular activities, such as the Undergraduate Research Experience at CSUF.

What are your immediate plans after completing your studies at Cypress College (at your transfer institution, in the workforce, etc.)?

Upon transferring I would love to join an experimental lab. After spending some time as a research assistant in a Computational Chemistry lab at CSUF, I want to explore the experimental side of research.

What are your long-term goals? What do you aspire to?

Eventually, I would love to be a Professor and Researcher of Physics. As I conduct research I would like to enlist the perspectives of community college students, just as I was during my time at Cypress College. My hope is to demonstrate the capabilities of transfer students that they do have a place in research labs.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of coming back to academia. It was scary at first but with my support system strong I was able to persevere. I am proud and ecstatic that I get to indulge in this journey with my friends and my sister as we graduate as the class of 2022!

What bit of advice would you give to current and future Cypress College students?

It is never too late to start! And when things get tough remember that not that long ago you dreamed to be in the position you are in now. Keep pushing and you will persevere!

Is there anyone in particular you’d like to thank?

I would like to thank my sisters Jenneyva and Kendra for being my 24/7 support. I know that it must have been exhausting never having a day off. Just know that I have appreciated every conversation even though at times I didn’t really want to hear the truth… I also would like to thank my mom for leading our family with unconditional love. When I was lost and struggling internally you were able to tether me even though I didn’t realize it. Eventually I came to see how much I value our relationship and your words of wisdom. Thank you mom!

Last but not least, I would like to thank Bradi and Ann! You two are so smart and such kind people! Thank you for making me laugh and making studying enjoyable. It has been exciting to see all of our progress and I am so honored to be a part of your journey!