Super Smart with a Helping Heart: 2010 NAC Alum Ivonne Huitron

On a recommendation from a former teacher, Ivonne Huitron took a chance and checked out the Nicholas Academic Centers at Valley High School shortly after NAC II’s opening in January of 2009. She soon realized that many of her friends had already joined and it didn’t take long before Ivonne became a NAC regular. A year and a half later, she found herself graduating from Valley and transitioning into UC Irvine. She says, “I have the NAC to thank for getting me through the college application process and everything crazy that comes with it.” Now preparing to enter her third year at UCI, Ivonne has plenty to say about focusing on academics while leaving time for volunteering and hanging out with friends and family.
NAC: Have you decided on a major at UCI?
Ivonne: I am now going into my junior year at UCI, which is pretty scary because that means I’m about halfway through my college career! At times I still feel very much like a freshman and it surprises me when I remember that two years have already passed. Time just goes by so fast, and I attribute so much of this to the UC quarter system, too. In these two years, I’ve gone from going in as Undecided/Undeclared, to declaring myself a Biology major, and now changing to the Public Health major with an Education minor.
NAC: How did you choose this major?
Ivonne: I first decided to get my degree in Biology because I hope to go to medical school and become a pediatrician. Majoring in Biology seemed the most obvious thing to do, but later I realized that I really don’t need to major in Biology to go to medical school; in fact, I can have any major as long as I fulfill the med school requirements. I have now decided on being a Public Health major because it still incorporates much of the same science as Biology, but it also has a larger focus on people and illnesses. I also just recently decided on getting an Education minor because I love working with and learning about children, and teaching would be a great backup for me besides medical school.
NAC: What activities are you involved in on/off campus?
Ivonne: I am involved with Helping Hearts for the Homeless, a club dedicated to aiding the homeless in and around the area. Besides holding clothes, shoes, food, and other types of drives, another thing we do that defines us on campus are the trips we make to Skid Row in downtown L.A. We make these trips at least twice each quarter, where we hand out the donations we’ve collected along with care packages and ask a few people to join us for lunch and have a nice conversation. The stories they share with us are really touching and teach me something new each time. These trips make me value what I have so much more and also shatter any misconceptions I had about the homeless. I first learned about Helping Hearts for the Homeless on Welcome Week of my freshman year when I stopped by their booth. I was interested right away because I have a passion for helping others in need. One of the things I love the best about Helping Hearts is the passion and dedication that our members have, regardless of the numerous other things they all have going on.
I also volunteer at Pio Pico Elementary [in Santa Ana] with the THINK Together program there. I’ve been there for their afterschool program and now also for their summer program. On a typical school day, I would fix up the snacks for the kids, help the first grade class with their games outside, afterwards help the students with their homework, and later supervise them until they were picked up by their parents. But it’s the small things in between that make me love volunteering, like the time one small boy was teaching me how to armpit fart or seeing that a student now knew how to count by fives when last week he couldn’t. I know it sounds cliché but they really do keep me young inside. They remind me of the things I used to do when I was their age and I learn from them, as well. I also love that they are so open to everything. They don’t have prejudices or care about clothes or other superficial things. They just really want to play, have fun, and have someone that cares about them. I’ll play Pikachu and rock, paper, scissor with them, or talk to them when they’re crying, sad, or mad, and it feels nice being with them.
NAC: What are some of the more memorable experiences you’ve had at UCI?
Ivonne: The most memorable experience I’ve had at UCI is probably one day when my friends and I were having lunch and we started going around telling embarrassing stories. It was hilarious, especially my friend’s story. He told us about a time when he got into his friend’s car to get a ride home from work and exclaimed “Let’s go!” As soon as he sat down, he realized he had gotten into the wrong car and the girl driving was freaking out and yelling at him to get out!
Another memorable experience is of playing Quidditch at Aldrich Park at UCI. For those who don’t know, Quidditch is a game they play in Harry Potter. So what we do is run around with broomsticks between our legs trying to score, while the snitch – which for us is a person instead of the flying ball – runs around the park until they get caught. I know it sounds ridiculous and it really is, but it’s great to be foolish, have fun, and just relax and let go of a long day.
NAC: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while attending UCI, and how have you handled them?
Ivonne: Some of the challenges I faced immediately going into college were time-management and discipline. College is very different than high school and it took me a while to get used to it and figure out how to work it. On most days during my first year, I would only be in class for three or four hours max and I didn’t know what else to do with the rest of my time. Of course, I could have been studying, but often I would do other things instead and I saw that my grades were suffering. I know it sounds boring, but I started using an agenda to focus on what I needed to do. This helped me get better organized and be more aware of what I needed to get done versus wondering all the time what assignment I had due.
Another thing that was new to me was the culture on campus. Even though they’re not much farther away from each other than 15-20 minutes, UC Irvine is very different from Santa Ana. It really shocked me to see how many Asian and White people there were on campus. It would intimidate me to look around my classrooms and see that I was maybe the only Hispanic there, although there were probably 10 or 11 others… in a class of 350! I would also always see clubs selling boba and I would think, “What is that?” because they were so popular. Now I know it’s a drink, usually coffee with tea, with tapioca balls, and even though I hated it the first time I tried it, I’ve come to like it a lot now. I guess boba can be compared to agua de horchata. After some time, I’ve now come to get used to these things. It’s just the atmosphere, different people and customs that you kind of get used to after a while.
NAC: Anything you’d like to add about your college experience, any advice for current NAC students?
Ivonne: Take advantage of the resources offered on campus! I’m sure there’s something the campus can offer to you, from counseling to tutoring or help with finding internships. All you really need to do is ask and you will find it! I am still amazed to find out the things and opportunities they offer at UCI, and many of them I did not take advantage of because I did not know about it or I did not bother to ask.
I’d also like to suggest that when you go to college, go in with an open mind! Not just for learning in class, but also for meeting new people. Leave any prejudices and ideas you had about other people behind. I admit that I went in with an idea that sorority girls and frat guys were just pretty girls and boys that partied, professors were strict and unapproachable, and all the like. Of course, there may be people like this, but absolutely not all of them are the same. I have a very good friend in a sorority who is just so awesome and very pleasant and fun, nothing like I would imagine before. A lot of the professors I’ve had have also been very helpful, kind, and more than happy to talk, and sometimes they’re even goofy. Be ready to meet lots of cool people and friends that will prove our prejudices and ideas completely wrong, because even though we’re not aware of them, we do have them, and it’s more than likely they are not true.

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