Going to college was never guaranteed for Victor Jimenez ’22. In fact, until the Obama Administration established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, college wasn’t even a possibility.
“Until then, it wasn’t in my line of vision to go to college,” says the Mexican citizen who grew up in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. “I was just trying to stay out of trouble, joining every sports team I could get into. When I found running, that was my bread and butter.”
That’s what caught the attention of Columbia International University, who recruited him to their track and cross-country team. It was the first time he’d thought about going to college – and now that he had, he knew he wanted something more.
“My big plan kind of changed there,” says Jimenez, who after two years, transferred to the College of Charleston, losing most of the credits he’d earned over the last two years – not to mention the running scholarship he’d received. “I essentially had to start over at the College of Charleston.”
Fortunately, he knew where he wanted to start: the School of Business.
“I didn’t necessarily know exactly what it is I wanted to do, but I started talking to professors and friends and eventually landed on majoring in finance,” says Jimenez, who also sought out advice from the School of Business Student Success Center. “They were able to give me a little bit more guidance. Wendy Stephens in particular, was an amazing help – from the moment I stepped into her office, all the way until graduation. But all of the people that work there had a little bit of input, and I found that really helpful.”
Eventually, Jimenez began to carve his own path in the School of Business, serving in the Student Success Center as a School of Business Ambassador and as the co-chair of the Success Mentoring Program Student Advisory Board. He also was selected to join the College’s Investment Program as its emerging markets economist.
“The Investment Program guided me to see where I wanted to go as far as a career,” says Jimenez, noting his curiosity in the finance industry was first piqued when he attended the Finance Summit through the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. “It was inspiring to be with students from across the country who are Hispanic or Latino, who speak your own language, listening to Hispanic and Latino senior executives from all the big, humongous names like Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley talking about how they came out of backgrounds like ours and are doing big things now.
“Because of the energy that I got from all these people, I wanted to enhance the experience of students at the College of Charleston, too,” Jimenez continues. “That’s when I found the Investment Program.”
Jimenez’ involvement in the School of Business was, however, overshadowed by the finances of real life, at times.
“I still had to figure out how to get by every month,” he says, explaining that, because he was at the College through the DACA program, South Carolina prohibited him from qualifying for in-state tuition. “It was tough because I grew up in South Carolina, but was still considered an international student.”
To help alleviate the financial burden, he worked several jobs every semester, found scholarships here and there and even took time off when he couldn’t afford tuition.
“It hasn’t been an easy journey – it got tough at some points,” he says, recalling one particularly tough time when he had $20 to last him the rest of the week. “I’d decided I couldn’t come back the next semester – in my head I was just like, ‘OK, I’ve got to go. There’s too much money, too much pressure, too much stress not only on me, but my parents.’”
He was about to confess his plans to his advisor, when the finance professor asked him to go on a walk. They were in front of the Stern Student Center when the professor told him to wait outside, went into the Stern Center and came back out with a $100 bill.
“He says, ‘I really think you could use this.’ He insisted I take it,” recalls Jimenez. “I literally cried.
“It was at that point I realized that this community here cares a lot. I was surprised at how important I became to the community and my professors. They care more than just getting you through the system. They want you to do better for you and your own community,” he says. “It just kind of just opened up my mind that there’s always people in your corner, wherever that may be. There’s always somebody wanting you to do good for your own self and others. At that point, I said, ‘OK, what can I do to help other people?’”
One thing he did was offer advising and support to students at his high school who – like he once did – needed help navigating the college application process, applying for DACA-specific scholarships and finding housing and other resources on college campuses.
He also founded a chapter of the Association of Latino Professionals For America (ALPFA) at the College of Charleston. With a mission of empowering and developing Latinx students “to be leaders of character for the nation in every sector of the economy,” ALPFA is a national professional organization that enhances students’ skills and prepares them for life after college.
“Since we started, I’ve been working with other chapters from across the region to host virtual events with Latino and Hispanic professionals,” says Jimenez. “That’s probably one of the coolest things to experience: meeting other driven individuals who have a story like yours.”
He hopes he can pass the ALPFA torch on, but continue to work with the chapter on getting professional speakers.
“I would like to see more people like me come out of that program,” says Jimenez. “For me, starting the ALPFA chapter was kind of like a giving-back accomplishment – a legacy that I’d like to leave.”
Last May, Jimenez graduated from the College and headed straight into a full-time position as a credit analyst at United Bank, where he interned and worked part time as a student. For most students, having a full-time job lined up before graduation would be a success story. For Jimenez, success has a different meaning.
“As a Mexican migrating here with my family, I’ve always had a different view: The opportunity to come to the College of Charleston is something you have to make the very best of. I had to work harder because of that,” he says. “But, at the same time, I was very happy to do it. Because, you know, I didn’t think that I was going to get this far – and so just being at CofC has already been my success story.”