Cruz-Pineda ’21 Finds Identity Through Study Abroad and Service

By Caitlin Burns | February 11, 2021

By Katherine Haines ’21

Emily Cruz-Pineda ’21 started her college journey at Arcadia as undecided on her major. Coming from a family of educators, she decided on Education with a minor in Spanish, although she knew being in front of a classroom wasn’t something she wanted in a career. 

With the help of her study abroad experiences, Cruz-Pineda found a love of language and of helping her community. As a first-year student, she participated in the China Preview program; in her junior year, Cruz-Pineda went to Grenada, Spain, where she fell in love with the Spanish language. This prompted Cruz-Pineda to spend a full year abroad in Spain and revert her academic major and minor—she switched to major in Spanish and minor in Education. 

“My family is Latino but I didn’t learn it growing up—school was how I learned the language,” said Cruz-Pineda. “Being able to go to Spain and learn how to write it, how to read it, and how to speak it made me realize that I can use this to help Latino communities, and whatever I do, it’ll always be beneficial.”

After her year abroad, Cruz-Pineda took on the STAMP (Study Abroad Mentorship Program) executive board positions of Student Outreach Coordinator and Clubs & Societies Relationship Team Leader. As a STAMP, Cruz-Pineda wanted to share her experience as a person of color to encourage others to study abroad.

“Sometimes it’s not a priority, but it should be because it’s such a great experience,” said Cruz-Pineda. “I wanted to get an idea of what it means to help people study abroad, if I can incorporate that later in my career.”

Cruz-Pineda said that the heightened tensions over racial inequality this past summer helped her understand the importance of knowing her own identity.

“Once you know who you are you know what you stand for and you know how to use your voice,” said Cruz-Pineda. “What you’re able to know about yourself is just a statement in itself, nobody can tell you who you are or what you deserve once you know who you aren’t, and then you can work on a bigger community level.”

Her experiences at Arcadia as a STAMP, a student, and a member of the women’s tennis team have helped Cruz-Pineda understand herself and her own identity—leading her to a new career path. She now wants to go into counseling, with a focus on guidance counseling.

“When I understood my relationships with people and my connections, I found that I was a great listener, and I honestly feel like one of my key goals is to serve others,” said Cruz-Pineda. “Listening and service are beautiful parts of guidance counseling, and I have such a desire to help others be able to help themselves. I’m not trying to fix you but I want to be able to give you the tools to help yourself so you can be your own person and then help others.”

Cruz-Pineda credits her recent experience with the 2021 NCAA Division III Student Immersion Program with helping her build connections and further develop her desire to help others. Her coach, Pam Rendé, nominated Cruz-Pineda to participate in the program as a member of the team, and Cruz-Pineda applied to the program. She was one of two Arcadia students selected by the NCAA to participate in their online convention in January. 

“I’m so grateful to my coach because she is always keeping my name in the conversation trying to give me opportunities,” said Cruz-Pineda. “The program was really nice and it really opened my eyes to what could be and what things I need to work on to be there.”

The immersion program, which is held in conjunction with the 2021 NCAA Convention, is a three-day event held annually to bring together ethnic minority students with a strong interest in a career in Division III athletics. Cruz-Pineda said most of the emphasis of the program was on networking and career building, which taught her how important it is to communicate effectively and make strong connections.

“To know one person is to know another person’s story and that person could offer you something,” said Cruz-Pineda. “Understanding someone’s process to get where they are can help you in your process to get where you want to be, so now when I reach out to people to network I’m always asking them about their stories and I feel like it can lead to so many other things.”

As Cruz-Pineda continues to find her own identity, she has found how important being able to serve her community is to her aspirations.

“The confidence I was able to gain at Arcadia through tennis, through my leadership positions, through study abroad, is something that I’m able to take with me as I’m graduating,” said Cruz-Pineda. “There is beauty in letting go as far as not trying to control what your outcome is, but really enjoying the journey of it because wherever you end up you’ll benefit from it.”