Motivation Monday: Marissa

Wheaton College | 2014
English Writing & Rhetoric Communication

Hometown: Murrieta, California
Currently: Business Systems Analyst at the University of Michigan School of Information
Self-described: Joyful, visionary, advocate
Enjoys: Leading information science activites and sharing my story at local high schools, painting, and kayaking with my husband.
Choose to stand up and be the best version of yourself.

Tell us about yourself!

I’m a geek. I was the person in school who always had a book in her hand, wanting to escape my life. I remember reading late at night, ignoring my Mom’s pleas to go to bed. But I also remember nights when my parents would come in and shut off the light to make it look like we weren’t home because a debt collector or car impounder was at the door, pounding to get our attention. I remember reading with a cheap book light underneath the covers so they wouldn’t see. I remember wanting to escape, and being told the only way was college.

Despite my limited-income background and the emotional struggles of being a child of divorce, I became the first in my family to go to college. I needed to know there was more I could do for my family than work long hours every day of the week. I wanted to break through the barriers and expectations of me as a limited-income Hispanic-White female.

I was always told “just don’t get pregnant and work at McDonald’s and you will be better than most people like you.” I chose not to believe that – I knew there were other women out there making a huge difference in this world and I wanted to join them.

College was my first step and I’ve never stopped walking forward. A big reason for my success is the love and support of my husband, Chris Taylor. He’s my college sweetheart, and since day one he’s never stopped believing in me and challenging me to be the best version of myself.


Greatest source of inspiration in college

My college professors. They always welcomed students to come in their office to talk about life and their classes. I became very close to many of my professors and their belief in me and my success helped my confidence and drive to succeed in college and make it to the finish line.


How did other people help you get to where you are today?

I have a sister who is seven years younger than me. Since she was born, I wanted to be a role model for her. I remember not wanting to make bad decisions in high school because she looked up to me. I also remember breaking her heart when I left for college. As a child, she didn’t totally understand why I left. But I knew if I exceed in college and get a good job, I could help her with her own college career. When I came to college, I only brought two small suitcases, which held my clothes, bedding, and dorm décor. I remember being embarrassed by this, so when it was my turn to take my sister to college, I filled up an entire car full of things for her to have. I strive to be better to pave a way for her to succeed in life.

Coffee or tea?
Tea –
I married into a British family, there is no other option

Dog or cat?

PC or Mac?

Early bird or night owl?
Early bird –
At the gym most mornings by 5am

Cake or pie?

Major / Minor
English & Communication
Master of Science | Information

Years Attended

Grad Year


Favorite thing

Being able to do new and exciting things with friends all the time – from staying up late to discussing problems in this world and solutions, to hitting Wendy’s at 4am to going to Chicago on the weekends to help with homeless outreaches or seeing museums. Making and maintaining friendships as an adult is a lot harder, so having opportunities to be with friends all the time was amazing.


Least favorite thing

When I was in college, being a first generation student was not an identity you could cling to and find resources for, at least not at my college. I was surrounded by people whose great-great-great grandfather went to my college, as well as everyone else in their family. There were a lot of simple things I did not know, and they came up during most of my time in college.


Tell us about a challenge you faced. How did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge in college happened during my sophomore year when I got a phone call that my family was evicted. My family lived in California and I was in Chicago. I couldn’t afford to pay for a trip home and I couldn’t afford to give them a lot of money. I remember not knowing who to even talk to in my friend group and ended up going to my college’s free mental health counselors to talk about my family and my struggle of wanting to be a good daughter and a good student.

I was constantly told that my priority in college was to be a student, and this would piss me off.

My family only had me, and having to choose my education over their welfare seemed the worst betrayal. I didn’t navigate this well, but the free college counseling helped me stay sane.

While the advice to keep college a priority is still painful, I finally understand.

Because of my success, when I get phone calls that my family needs help, I can finally help them.


How did you decide what to major in?

I always love to read and write. I mainly choose my English writing degree because I knew I would love it – and I did. However, I also knew that the career aspirations in this field were limited, so I double majored with Communications to look attractive to future employers. I have seen the benefits of double majoring and often tell students to double major as well – one in something you love, and another in something practical.


What advice would you give to your freshman-year self?

Take risks. Afraid to talk to your professors? Do it. Afraid to take a class because you think you will fail it? Do it. Afraid to try different food or go to a different church or visit the nearby communities? Do it. Life is not forgiving, but in college there are ways to take risks and this mentality will help you thrive in your professional career.


Best advice you received?

"Life is not about finding answers or asking the right questions.
It’s about living in the tension the questions and answers bring."

Someone told me this quote during my sophomore year and it was revolutionary for me. For years I tried to find the perfect formula for success or happiness, but life is hard and trying to find the reasons why is a painful circle. Instead, I live in that tension and I choose to live well in it. For example, when my favorite professor died, I could have stayed on the question why, but instead this helped me accept his death, reflect on how it was affecting me and the people around me, and how to best support my community. I felt pain, but I didn’t let that control me.


What's your secret for time management and productivity?

Physically write things down. There are a lot of apps for reminders, events, and notes, but having color post-it notes around me for to-do-lists and reminders is the only thing that keeps me on track.


How do you de-stress?

I am committed to taking a Sabbath every week. Once a week, I will not work on anything academic or professional. I only do things that bring me joy that day. This allows for my brain to take a break and my body to find joy around me. What I do each week differs between my mood, but it’s nice to reflect on what I need to find joy and commit to it. I’ve done this since my sophomore year of college, and having that commitment helped me prioritize and improve my time-management.


Book recommendation

Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream

I went to a conference and attended a talk by the author, Sara Goldrick-Rab. This book helped me wrestle with the pain of being a limited-income student by understanding the stories of others like me and that I am not alone. It is full of real-life stories of students who struggle with buying textbooks or helping their families, and Goldrick-Rab’s examples of moving forward are widely helpful for her audience.


Final thoughts?

Advocate for yourself. There will always be people who think less of you for different reasons. At the end of the day, fight for yourself. When you are in your darkest days, choose to fight. When school is tough and awkward, and you feel like leaving, fight for your education. When you experience stereotypes or prejudice in your professional field, fight to prove them wrong. You are your best chance to make a better life for you, your family, and the countless of people to follow you. Choose to stand up and be the best version of yourself.


Can students contact you directly? If so, about what?

Yes –
Informational interviews (getting to know more about my career,
being the only female on a STEM team, advocating for yourself),
application/scholarship essay reviews and edits, and
help with resumes/cover letters

Connect with Marissa