As the eighth oldest institution for higher learning in the United States, Rutgers is celebrating its 250th anniversary on November 10, 2016. To celebrate this monumental milestone, I Am Rutgers will be featuring Rutgers’ most involved and accomplished students in a new series, “250 for 250.” This year-long series will serve as a reflection of Rutgers’ diverse student body and status as a premier national research university.
Shakespeare said it best when he wrote “our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we [often] might win, by fearing to attempt.” Victor Gatica had always maintained the belief that he was not good enough to succeed, and was shocked when he was accepted into Rutgers. He jokes that his acceptance was an accident as he tells me about his journey here. Although his acceptance was clearly real, it was conditional. Victor would have to excel in the Equal Opportunity Fund (EOF) in order to be ready for Rutgers. The EOF program offers financial and academic assistance to low-income New Jersey residents. Incoming first years must go through an intensive summer program that helps them prepare for Rutgers through strategies that focus on things like systematic retention efforts and student leadership development.
Victor also participated and conducted research in the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program the summer before his senior year. The McNair Program provides resources to assist and prepare students interested in pursuing a doctorate education. Aside from being heavily involved in the EOF and McNair programs, Victor was also an Apartment Assistant in the Livingston Apartments and worked in the Eagleton Institute of Politics as a social media analyst intern and as a caller. With a double major in political science and psychology, Victor found that he was wanted to learn more about voter behavior, which neatly combined his two majors.
I’m interested in voter behavior, so I conducted research about the online model of voting versus the memory model of voting under the McNair program. The memory model is when you go to the voting booth and vote based on everything you remember about a candidate. The online model is when you vote as you receive information, and are able to check off what you like and what you don’t like. I compared the two in a meta study to see how they were evaluated. I found that they were being evaluated differently which is why you end up with different evidence. I was actually able to present it which was cool because the McNair program taught us about public speaking too.”
It can be challenging to remain ambitious and motivated both in college and in life, but having a support system certainly helps. Although Victor struggled with juggling self-confidence issues, academics and leadership positions, his girlfriend Breahnna inspires him to be passionate and driven in his work.
In high school, I was the kid who sat in the back, she was the kid who sat in the front. We wouldn’t have talked if it wasn’t for this group project we had. She has always been a really good student. I think she was in the top 10% of her class and was incredibly involved. She did everything. I did nothing. And coming here, it was natural for her to succeed and I didn’t have a lot of those skills. I had programs like McNair and EOF to help me out, but she knew what it was to succeed. So she would guide and help me. When I would freak out she would tell me that it’s normal to freak out and that I’m not weak for freaking out. We’ve been together since high school. She’s something special. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be here. She’s really awesome.”
During his four years here, Victor began questioning what he values and how those values have impacted his evolution as a college student. He figured out that it was important to define what exactly drove him to be the person he is today.
One of the things I’ve come to realize is that you don’t really discover yourself, as much as you create yourself. I’ve noticed a lot of people struggling to find themselves, and where they fit in – what they want to do in life. But more and more I’m realizing that the people who found that out, it’s not so much that they found it as much as they created it. The best advice I can give future scholars is that you’re creating yourself as much as you are discovering yourself and I want to encourage them to actually sit down and think about themselves. One question I like to ask a lot of people is ‘why do you wake up in the morning?’ That’s the question I like to ask a lot of people because it makes you think about what your values are.”
After graduating earlier this month, Victor will be starting a one-year Masters program with a focus on political behavior at Stony Brook University. Although he knows he wants to be a professor teaching political science or psychology, he hopes that getting his Masters Degree will help him narrow down which Ph.D. program he wants to pursue. With an impressive resume and tremendous goals, Victor is ultimately most proud of himself for graduating from Rutgers.
My biggest achievement is graduating. I was not the best student in high school and I’m honestly surprised to be here. Sometimes I genuinely feel that Rutgers sent me an acceptance letter meant for someone else and never noticed. Coming here I was out of my element and I didn’t have people hovering over me, so I fell. I was depressed and alone, not through lack of support but through my own actions. I couldn’t find motivation. Why? I was comfortable; my parents worked every hour of everyday to make sure I had everything. If they hadn’t, I would be in Guatemala right now possibly dead from gang violence. I finally realized that I didn’t need to succeed for myself but for my family. I needed to validate my parents struggles and to make them proud of me. I needed to finally be a positive role model for my brothers and to live up the potential my aunt held for me. I needed to succeed so I wouldn’t hold Breahnna back, she’s a woman who is meant to soar. I need to be the best father I could be for my future children, I want to give them the love my family gave me. I need to succeed for my current and my future family. An individual doesn’t exist alone – their actions matter to other people. Whether I succeeded or not would affect other people and that woke me up. I found myself in other people and I felt motivated. Right now I’m a few weeks from graduating and I can say I don’t feel like a disappointment anymore. For the first time, I’m proud of myself.”