In Oaxaca, Mexico Vianney Luis-Quero was a college graduate and licensed psychologist. In America, she found herself as another immigrant performing menial labor because she could not speak English.
Southwestern College—and her spirited quest to remake herself—changed all that. Today Luis-Quero, 27, is a doctoral student and role model for her countrymen.
“My story is one of challenges, possibilities and a vast future,” said Luis-Quero. “It is very possible that my story is also your story.”
Luis-Quero left her country, family and friends four years ago to follow her dreams. Armed with only a student visa, licentiate de psicología in hand and no understanding of English, she found herself in Southwestern College’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Her vocabulary was so limited she could only find work at a thrift store. Her greatest decision, she said, was to take ESL classes.
“When I arrived to this land I only knew a couple of sentences in English,” she said. “I had to learn simple things such as ‘Hello, my name is…’ and ‘I am lost’.”
Luis-Quero said ESL classes gave her the ability to help other immigrants, desperate because they were unable to communicate effectively in America.
“We were trying to learn English and share experiences, ideas and our lives,” she said. “Trying to adapt to a new life and get better jobs.”
In the beginning Luis-Quero said she did not understand why they had to learn about tectonic plates, climate change and theories of evolution. She saw no reason for using this type of vocabulary until after she graduated from the ESL program last year and starting regular college courses. She said her first day of regular college courses were full of fear and questions, and wondered if she could understand the teachers, communicate with her classmates or write a comprehensive essay.
Then that moment of realization—the information from the ESL in classes had foundation to help her feel comfortable with daily English.
“And guess what?” she said. “All those catastrophic ideas disappeared. I comprehended everything my teachers said. My classmates never pointed me out because of my strange accent and I was comfortable following prompts, writing essays and analyzing poems. I learned all of these tools from my ESL classes.”
ESL Professor Andy MacNeill said Luis-Quero took part in classes that follow what is called the Opportunities Model. He said the object
is to give students the tools and opportunities for interaction, taking the input and utilizing the output.
“Vianney took that seriously,” said MacNeill. “She took every opportunity she could. Her presentations were above the level of other students in the program. They were very high quality.”
On May 6 Luis-Quero spoke to the 2011 ESL graduating class and assured her peers that their hard struggle to get to regular college courses was not an end of ESL, but a beginning of their next step in their educational pursuits. She said it would not be without struggle, but the reward for their efforts would be a fountain of opportunity in their futures.
“As a student, I know there are times when we are just tired,” she said. “Tired of learning a new language. Tired of learning a concept while we work serving mashed potatoes, accommodating merchandise on a counter or working as a waitress in a restaurant.”
Luis-Quero said the cycle of learning was difficult and she endured many days of doubt.
“I know about those moments in which we feel very close to quitting school,” she said. “We arrive home at night after a long day at work and we still have homework to do.”
It was last year while taking English 116 that Luis-Quero decided to apply to Allied International University’s (AIU) doctoral program in clinical psychology. She said it was a difficult process.
“I was disappointed,” she said. “I was told that my studies from Mexico were not valid if I wanted to continue studying here.”
In her first step, she had to request a U.S. equivalency of her degree earned at the Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Oaxaca. Money, official transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal essay and a resume were all required in order to get an interview with the college. She said a successful interview was critical for entering the program. After hours of what seemed like endless work, she received a U.S. equivalent degree—a BA in Psychology and an acceptance to AIU’s doctoral program.
MacNeill said the ESL program has had students like her that have an education from their country and need to transfer their skills from their native language to English.
“We have seen a few cases like Vianney where Boom!, they are not going into English 71, they are going into English 114 and 115, college-level courses right out of our program. And that is what we strive for,” he said.
MacNeill said Luis-Quero was always prepared and appreciated everything she could learn. She was a joy to work with, he said, and her upbeat
personality showed in everything she did. She has the intelligence and social skills to form relationships with those around her, he said.
“She just punched it out,” he said. “We didn’t know what we were getting, but we were happy with what we got. She has a captivating personality with a touch of humor.”
Dr. Joel Levine, dean of language and literature, said Luis-Quero is a top-notched student in the ESL program. He said her focused mind and motivating spirit took her where she wanted to go.
“She came here as an ESL student, with limited English and joined our program,” said Levine. “She made the absolute best use of this new design we have on content-based instruction. She was able to recognize the value of what that program was offering in order to prepare her for the courses she would need to take to get into that doctoral program.”
Luis-Quero begins her journey at AIU this fall. Her teachers at SWC stand by her, assuring and supporting her. While speaking to her ESL peers at their graduation, she said she is living proof that the program is a launch pad for achievement.
“Based on my experience, I am telling you do not give up your classes,” she said. “Don’t give up on your dreams. It takes effort and time, but it is within your reach. It is possible to achieve them. I am doing it.”