Stephanie Toledo didn’t want anything to get in the way of her academic success when she arrived at UC Merced.
The shy freshman wasn’t ready to consider clubs, social activities or other campus opportunities. But Toledo soon realized that she needed more than classwork to get the most from her college experience.
“You have to go outside your comfort zone,” she said.
So a few months into her freshman year, Toledo followed a friend’s recommendation to check out the Health Education Representatives for Opportunities to Empower Students (HEROES) program. She built leadership and other skills with that program and others such as the Violence Prevention Program, orientation and the Latino Leadership Initiative Program at Harvard.
Now, after four years of rigorous academics and campus participation, Toledo graduates this month with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. She’ll start work in a few months on a master’s degree in public health at UC Davis.
“I definitely feel ready to go,” she said. “I feel like I’m ready for any class, anywhere.”
Toledo traveled far from her Southern California home in Whittier to UC Merced. She remembers touring UC campuses as a high school student and feeling like she didn’t belong.
But the atmosphere was different at UC Merced, where Toledo was charmed by people’s friendliness and the opportunity to grow with the UC’s newest campus.
Initially, Toledo planned to major in psychology. But an orientation leader spoke so passionately about sociology that she decided to explore that major.
“I thought there was no way that I was going to fall in love with it, but I did,” Toledo said.
One of her favorite UC Merced memories is when a sociology professor said she and other professors saw that Toledo was hard working and studious.
“I never thought that any professors had taken notice of me, but that showed me the professors at UC Merced really take note of their students and really see all the effort that they put forth in class,” Toledo said.
Activities outside the classroom helped her confidence and leadership skills. Through programs like HEROES, Toledo learned to lead and work in a group, speak in public, engage an audience, organize events and more.
“All of these are essential skills that the opportunities at UC Merced have allowed me to be able to grow in work and real-world capacities,” she said. Juggling classes, work and other activities also taught her to be organized and disciplined.
“If I had a few hours in my schedule, I knew I had to finish my reading,” she said.
Toledo said she loved her years at UC Merced and would recommend the campus to other students.
“Without a doubt, it will be a place where they will be able to find a variety of leadership opportunities that will benefit them throughout their lives,” she said.
Toledo believes the skills she built at UC Merced will help in her professional life. After graduate school, she wants work on providing sex education classes and other resources to low-income families and minority communities that need those services.