Arturo Barrera is the first in his family to attend college in the United States, but he knows he didn’t get there alone.
In Bolivia, he said his parents overcame an unsafe social environment and political prejudices in finding employment. His mother persevered in becoming a doctor and psychologist, he said. His father, who studied business, came to the United States for a better life and worked multiple jobs—often at odd hours—to provide for his family.
“The amount of faith they had in each other to make it out of where they started blows me away,” Barrera said, adding that his parents’ college credits didn’t transfer to the United States. “They had hardships starting here, but despite it all, we now live in a nice home…and I am [at George Mason University] graduating.”
The December graduate from Woodbridge, Virginia, is receiving his bachelor’s in conflict analysis and resolution. He said Mason supported him before he was a freshman.
“The Early Identification Program (EIP) gave me resources and a different way of seeing the idea of college,” said Barrera, who joined the preparatory program in seventh grade. “I wanted to give back what they gave to me.”
Since coming to Mason, Barrera has served as a college readiness instructor and academic success coach for EIP.
“It was a little intimidating [mentoring high schoolers], but it developed me as a leader in that I gained a lot of confidence,” the Honors College student said. “I also was a peer advisor for a University 101 class—if it wasn’t for EIP, I would’ve never considered that.”
Barrera, who is also working on an accelerated master’s in public administration at the Schar School, said he’s most proud of helping first-generation students attend college and achieve their dreams.
“Arturo is a compassionate student, with patience beyond his years and a strong commitment to our students,” said Aaron Muz, EIP’s coordinator for outreach, engagement and student transition.
“He’s a dreamer who sets ambitious goals and knows how to put his head down and meet those goals through hard work and determination,” he said. “I have no doubt he’ll achieve something monumental in his future.”
With his degrees, Barrera said he aspires to help environmental organizations achieve their goals by streamlining their organizational processes and helping them navigate conflicts.
At Mason, he said he’s had meaningful experiences with the Student Transition and Empowerment Program, and the Carter School's Peacebuilding Fellowship, where he interned with the Office of Community and Local Government Relations in Arlington to help lead outreach efforts for the Institute for Digital InnovAtion.
Outside of class, Barrera supports the Model UN Program, Global Classrooms, and volunteers with Literacy Council of Northern Virginia to help Spanish speakers learn English. He also co-hosts The Lunch Break podcast, which centers on social innovations and global issues.
In all he does, Barrera said his work is about lifting others up.
“Everybody has the potential to do great things,” Barrera said. “I believe in others because I know there are people like my parents trying to get out of seemingly impossible situations or want more out of life.”
“Most of the time, they just need a hand or faith,” he said. “I like to give them that.”