As an admissions adviser at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Erika Iñiguez helps students start the next level of their education.
Iñiguez almost did not go to college herself. The oldest of four children, she is the first person in her family to graduate from college. So a career encouraging high school students to seek higher education and helping new students navigate the college experience is a passion for her.
“When I was about to graduate high school, my counselor didn’t tell me anything,” Iñiguez said. “My counselor told me to go to work and never mentioned college.”
Iñiguez’s work garnered her a nomination as an Everyday Hero from a Waubonsee dean, Faith LaSure, who wrote: “Erika is always the first to offer a helping hand, lend an ear and offer a hug and a smile of encouragement. She puts others before herself and enriches the community.”
Iñiguez also serves as an adviser for the Latino Unidos student group, which seeks to foster awareness of Latino culture.
“In this role, she helps student members organize events on campus and accompanies them to conferences throughout the year,” LaSure wrote. “Erika also participates in the Community Advisory Committee at East Aurora High School. Erika is generous with her time, regularly volunteering at events sponsored by Family Focus and the Aurora Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.”
LaSure wrote that Iñiguez works with everyone to encourage advancing their education.
“Whether she is working with a first-generation student who just graduated from high school, an adult returning to school to change careers or sharing the benefits of education with a community organization, Erika works as their cheerleader and mentor,” LaSure wrote.
Iñiguez, 37, of Aurora, has worked in her Waubonsee position for four years. Previously, she worked at DeVry University in student services.
She started attending college at Waubonsee, and it was purely by accident.
“What led me here was my dad was taking English as a second language classes,” said Iñiguez, an immigrant who was born in Mexico City. “I was about to graduate high school, and my father said, ‘I’m sure they have more than ESL and GED classes here.’”
So, Iñiguez met with an advisor and began taking classes, eventually transferring to the University of Illinois in Chicago, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in communication.
“I finally learned what the whole college world is, and I wanted to be that person people can come to and ask for help,” Iñiguez said. “It’s nice to help others to learn first-hand what a financial aid application ... entails. The community college allows me to go out to high schools and give presentations on college readiness.”
In her work with Family Focus, a non-profit group that provides services to low-income Latino families, Iñiguez uses her story to encourage others to consider going to college.
“I let them know ... if someone does not have faith in you, it’s OK,” Iñiguez said. “If you want to do something, you will achieve it.”
Her success inspired a sibling to pursue higher education, she said.
“My two brothers work in construction, but my youngest sister is in a graduate program in psychology right now at National Louis University,” Iñiguez said.
The Iñiguez lowdown
Who she is: Erika Iñiguez, admissions adviser at Waubonsee Community College
Town of residence: Aurora
Family: Husband, two daughters
Hobbies: Running 5K and 10K races, singing
Fun fact: "My daughters and I participated in a summer theater production of ‘Hairspray.’”