Maria Arboleda is passionately committed to her work in the Twin Cities’ Latino community. In fact, in her own words, she’s “married to the community.”
One of the first jobs she ever had was with Casa de Esperanza, a Saint Paul-based organization working to mobilize Latinas and the Latino community to end domestic violence. Arboleda’s work there gave her the opportunity to gain the skills she would come to use in every community-centered job that followed.
She went on to hold leadership roles in programs such as the Hennepin County Medical Center’s Aqui Para Qi program and the University of Minnesota’s Division of General Pediatrics & Adolescent Health, making a difference in Latino lives, one by one. She’s especially driven to educate young women about teenage pregnancy prevention, and she strongly believes in offering resources to those suffering from domestic or sexual abuse.
Passionate as she is about her work, Arboleda put off the education she knew she wanted for a number of years. Although she has no regrets about putting off college, Arboleda knew she wanted to enter a degree program at some point so she could further refine her knowledge and skills.
“I’m very committed to Latino issues related to gender, immigration, and advocacy for the underserved community, so I kept working and putting my education aside,” Arboleda says. “Meanwhile, I was working with a lot of young people who looked up to me. I’m a believer in education, and I wanted to demonstrate to those young people that no matter how many obstacles you see in front of you, you can finish school.”
In 2007 Arboleda enrolled in the Inter-College Program (ICP) at the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing and Professional Studies. And course by course, she made her way toward degree completion. In 2016 Arboleda graduated with her thematic BA entitled “International Youth, Gender and Community Health Engagement.” We sat down with Arboleda to ask a few questions about her experience.
CCAPS: How did your background in working with the Latino community shape what you chose to study through ICP?
MA: Essentially, I took all of the experiences I had from working in the Latino community, put them together, and studied them formally through the ICP thematic degree, which I designed myself. My concentrations within the degree were: Youth Studies, Family Social Science, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Social Work and Chicano Studies. Because I had experience in all of these areas, I was able to relate to everything I read in my classes and unite the coursework into one theme.
CCAPS: What surprised you in taking some of the courses you took?
MA: A lot of my classes challenged me in ways that I was not expecting. I’ve worked on a lot of sexual and domestic violence, so one example of my being surprised by something would be when we learned about men as victims of domestic or sexual violence. I was very biased against that fact, and my classes made me realize that there are male victims as well, and we need to find a way to work with that.
CCAPS: Did you have any difficulty getting through your coursework once you were enrolled through CCAPS?
MA: My adviser, Karolyn Redoute, kept me going, even when I faced a lot of challenges. She reminded me, “You’re almost there.” I have a tremendous amount of respect for her. She was an amazing advocate, very patient and understanding.
CCAPS: How do you plan to use your degree? Can you share a professional goal of yours?
MA: Right now I’m doing consulting work in the Twin Cities, but my dream is to open an organization for young women escaping a war in Colombia, where I’m originally from. I miss home, and I’d like to move back there to make a difference.