Juan Arcila joined the admissions team last summer.

USFSM counselor’s personal history helps with outreach

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: January 09, 2017

SARASOTA, Fla. (Jan. 09, 2016) Juan Arcila, the newest addition to the admissions department at USF Sarasota-Manatee, brings a personal approach to his job.

The 2016 USF alum was born in Pereira, Colombia, and divided his childhood between there and Clearwater. Like many first-generation Americans, he said he feels called to help other immigrants, which is why he finds satisfaction as an admissions counselor.

In addition to answering questions about college programs, entry requirements and tuition, Arcila makes a point of reaching out to Hispanic students and their parents, including at college fairs. He works with the pro-education group UnidosNow and frequently attends events to answer questions about college life and how scholarships and grants can ease the transition to higher education.

“I was fortunate enough to have people in my life help me in my transition to college. However, I know that’s not the case for many students, and they are often left in the dark,” Arcila said.

Arcila’s life now is worlds away from his early childhood in Pereira, a city in the mountainous, coffee-growing region of western Colombia. Arcila was 9 when he arrived in the United States with his parents and sister. The family left Colombia as political refugees and came to the United States hoping for a better future for their children, including oldest Juan.

“It was very difficult to adjust at first,” Arcila said. “None of us spoke any English, and we struggled financially. We lived in a studio apartment to accommodate a family of four, and my parents had to take on exhausting manual labor jobs to put food on the table. Even during that difficult time, my mother remained optimistic and emphasized to us the importance of education and going to college.”

Persevering through cultural and language barriers, Arcila graduated from East Lake High School in Pinellas County and attained an associate’s degree at St. Petersburg College before transferring to USF in Tampa to earn a Bachelor of Science in public health.

Now 23, he joined USFSM as a bilingual admissions counselor last June. He said he liked the idea of helping people realize their educational and career goals, including those who, like him, grew up with English as a second language.

“It was a personal thing I wanted to do,” he said. “It gave me a chance to go out and meet people and help them work on the process of applying to college. I’m deeply humbled for the opportunity to provide hope to students that need it most.”

He says he understands the immigrant experience and conflicting loyalties some students can feel toward family and their educational goals. Rising tuition adds to the dilemma, although scholarship and grant opportunities can eliminate much of the worry. Additionally, USFSM’s 40-plus degree and certificate programs bring the university experience right here to Manatee and Sarasota counties, Arcila says.

Last summer he approached UnidosNow, a grass-roots organization that encourages Hispanic teens to attend college. Arcila said the group’s goals aligned with his own. Through educational fairs and workshops, he’s been able to meet Hispanic students to talk about scholarships, entry requirements and degree programs. He also meets with students at local high schools.

“It can be difficult. I understand that,” he said. “But I tell them that they have options right here. They don’t have to go out of state and leave their families. There’s a university right here in their backyard.

“To me, a college degree means hope and limitless possibility.”

To learn more about Juan and USFSM’s admissions requirements, visit usfsm.edu/admissions/juan-arcila/.

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