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SPU Staff Help Students Navigate Career Paths and Family Expectations

Major Changes

By Colleen Steelquist ( | Photo by Garland Cary

Claudia Mosquera ’14 and her mom, Ana Flores.Claudia Mosquera ’14 and her mom, Ana Flores.

In high school, Claudia Mosquera ’14 knew exactly where her life was headed: “I wanted to be a pediatric nurse. You don’t hear about people in the Latino community in the medical field at all. I saw how Americans viewed important and powerful people, and they were people in law, medicine, or business. I thought I had to pick out of those three.”

So the Peru-born student — the first in her family to attend college — arrived at Seattle Pacific University intending to major in nursing. She did well academically, but as her freshman year wore on, her stress level increased. “I began questioning, Do I love this? Is this really what I want? Will I disappoint my parents if I don’t become a nurse?”

Mosquera’s vocational uncertainty isn’t uncommon. About one-third of students in the U.S. end up changing their major at least once, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But first-generation college students may face added pressures, says Susan Okamoto Lane, dean of Multi-Ethnic and Wellness Programs at SPU.

“First-generation students often carry the hope of their parents, and possibly their older siblings, extended family, and communities,” she says. They might feel an obligation to honor or repay the sacrifices others have made. “If they want to make a different vocational choice than what their family envisions, they worry that they’re somehow betraying the family and community or are ungrateful.”

To better assist students navigating these challenges, Okamoto Lane organized a series of conversations for staff, funded through SPU’s SERVE (Spiritual and Educational Resources for Vocational Exploration) program. Winter Quarter 2015, staff met to learn, understand cultural dynamics and develop strategize to help students struggling with these issues.

“We have these conversations with students all the time, and we wanted some tools to help them get unstuck,” she says.

The group heard from SPU faculty and staff experts about the theology of vocation, young adult development, cultural considerations, and vocational discernment. The group created a “10 commandments for talking with your parents” (such as “Thou shall not drop a half-baked bomb and leave,” and “Thou shall not neglect financial realities”). They also explored the use of genograms, a family tree-type tool that reveals career patterns and influences.

Okamoto Lane recently suggested a student create a genogram, which showed 17 nurses in his extended family. He looked at it and said, “No wonder it feels like nursing is the only option.”

Mosquera sought advice from her SPU mentors, and when a summer internship confirmed her career doubts, she sat down with her parents. She was nervous. “It was the first time I’d backed away from something. I told them I needed to research options because I wasn’t happy in the program,” she says.

Mosquera’s mother, Ana Flores, admits, “As parents, we sometimes try to make our dreams come true through our children. But I told Claudia, ‘You need to love what you do. That’s the key to success.’”

And Mosquera found success quickly. After graduating with a double major in visual communication and clothing and textiles with a fashion merchandising emphasis, the 23-year-old now works as a department manager for Nordstrom, directing one of her store’s largest teams, and her mother couldn’t be prouder.

“I love leading these 30 people and making my team better and growing with them. I love being the one who says, ‘What should we get you promoted into? Let’s get you ready for your next step,’” she says. “So many people at SPU did that for me.”