Wednesday, January 18, 2012

CAS Students are Influential: Catherine Peña

In December, the Washington Square News released its annual publication, "The 15 Most Influential Students: Class of 2011" along with a short introductory video. We are proud to say that four of the fifteen are CAS students! And over the past two weeks, we've been able to talk to three of them: Catherine Peña, Albert Cotugno and Kayla Santosuosso.

Catherine Peña is known on campus for her strong passion for empowering minority students and uniting diverse groups across NYU. She is highly involved on campus in organizations such as Latinos Unidos Con Honor Y Amistad (LUCHA), the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, La Herencia Latina and the Student Resource Center. Ms. Peña is also a recipient of the Higher Education Opportunity Program Scholarship.


What factors made you choose CAS for your undergraduate education?

As a senior at NYU, I am closing a wonderful chapter of my life and preparing myself to begin the next one: life as a law student. My academic focus has been based on my desire to obtain a legal education. Ever since I realized, in high school, that I wanted to pursue a career in law I have strategically planned my decisions to ensure that I will reach my goal. While researching where I wanted to pursue my undergraduate studies, I discovered and fell in love with the field of Sociology. When I applied to NYU this is what I looked for and the College of Arts & Science was where I found it. After my first semester, I knew that Sociology was perfect for me and I also knew that CAS was the right place for me. The school is large enough to provide me an array of learning environments, resources and opportunities, yet it is also small enough to allow me the opportunity to meet, interact and work with amazing students, faculty and staff.

Can you talk briefly about how you became involved in the NYU community and which engagements are most meaningful to you?

In August, before beginning my studies at NYU, I began working at the Student Resource Center. This office is an information center for the University, it also holds events for students and is a division of Student Affairs at the university. Working there I became acquainted with everything going on on campus, along with the many opportunities and resources available to students here. This all led me to become involved with student organizations during my freshman year at NYU. I wanted to do something beyond academics during my time here. During the fall semester, I discovered various student organizations oriented towards Latino students, such as Bella Quisqueya, BQ (the Dominican student organization on campus), La Herencia Latina, the planning committee Latino Heritage Month at NYU, and L.U.C.H.A. (Latinos Unidos Con Honor & Amistad, Latinos United with Love and Friendship) the oldest and largest Latino student organization on campus. pena_lucha.jpegThe BQ executive board creates a small committee to be in charge of Dominican Independence Week at the University, which takes place during the month of February. When they advertised the committee positions, I decided to run for secretary, and won. From there, I remained in the organization and was eventually elected president for the 2010-2011 school year. Working with BQ also led me to become involved with L.U.C.H.A., for which I am currently president. From all of the work I have done with these organizations, there are three things that hold the most meaning for me. The first was reinstating and reviving the Latino Unity Conference (LUC) at the university. LUC is a student ran and organized conference and was an important part of L.U.C.H.A. in its prime years. It had not taken place at the university since 2007. The second was a celebration of the 40 years of L.U.C.H.A at NYU, for which we created the Fuerza Award, intended to commemorate and recognize the many faces that make LUCHA the powerful organization that it has become. The third, was receiving a 2011 President's Service Award on behalf of L.U.C.H.A. Overall, however, it has always been the small things, such as bringing people together, that motivate me the most and push me to continue onward with the work I do.

In the Washington Square News, your colleague, Jazmin Molina, described you as, “the epitome of what it means to succeed aside from all the hardship that…minority students have to go through.” As a minority student, what sorts of hardships have you experienced, and what factors have enable you to overcome them and become an influential figure in the NYU community?

I am very touched by what Jazmin Molina said about me. It is absolutely amazing to see that words like those have been used to describe and refer to me. It is also phenomenal to experience the effects some of the work I am involved with can have. It truly is an honor. As a student of color on campus I have faced many hardships and obstacles, but the important part is that I have overcome them all. NYU is a very big place and finding students that look like me and share similar experiences to mine has proved a difficult task. At the same time, there is a lot of segregation amongst minorities and students of color on campus, which make efforts of unity and community building even harder. As a student leader, I have taken it upon myself to create spaces of unity and community through the organizations that I am a part of. I can say that we have successfully been able to bring many different kinds of people together in one room under the same agenda, and these experiences have been phenomenal. pena.jpeg
Overall, I have never allowed for my identity as a student of color, as a minority at NYU, to dictate where I go, what I do or to create any sort of limits or boundaries. I have made an effort to take advantage of all of the resources and opportunities available to me for simply being an NYU student. I have found my own niches and created my own communities at NYU, which have enabled me to always continue onward.


Stay tuned tomorrow and Friday to hear more about CAS students Albert Cotugno and Kayla Santosuosso!

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