"I wanted to break that pattern and pursue my dreams" - Yilda Korpela

First Generation College Student Yilda Korpela wearing a labcoat
Photo: Daniel Oberbauer

Yilda Korpela '19

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; minor in Public Health

I was born and lived in Oaxaca, Mexico until I was eight years old. My father came to the US in search of a better source of income so he could provide for our family of eight. After years of living in Mexico without my father, my mother decided to follow him and take us all to the United States. My family and I eventually joined my dad and we moved to Santa Maria, California. My father was a field worker and when we arrived to the US my mother and three older siblings joined him. My three oldest siblings were teenagers when they started working in the fields and weren’t given the opportunity to continue their education. It was only the three youngest who had the opportunity to go to school but out of the three, I am the only one to go to college. Education was not seen as an important factor in my family, so when I was in high school it was expected of me to graduate and then go work in the fields.

After working summers with my parents I saw how demanding it was to work in the fields and it’s not what I saw in my future.

Although it was difficult because my parents did not know anything about the education system, I wanted to break that pattern and continue to pursue my dreams.

How did you end up in college? What brought you to UC Davis?
One of my main motivations for going to college was to prove to myself and my parents that I could do it, that I could break out and accomplish graduating from a four year university. I first heard about UC Davis when I was in eighth grade through the AVID program I was involved with and after visiting the campus and doing some extra research I was set on attending.

What were you afraid of about college?
My biggest fear about college was being away from home all alone and not knowing anyone. For 18 years I had never been away from home so the thought of having to build up new relationships, take care of myself, in a new city all on my own seemed very frightening.

How my background helped me:
Being exposed to the working conditions many field workers deal with has given me a perspective that many other students don’t have.

When I feel discouraged or stressed, I tell myself how fortunate I am that all I have to do is study. Reading a textbook or studying doesn’t compare to the backbreaking work my parents and siblings have to and have had to do.

Have you been mentored by a faculty member/advisor on campus? Has someone on campus made an impact on you?
I haven’t been mentored by faculty on campus but I have been mentored various medical students through my involvement in Clinica Tepati. One medical student who stands out is Daisy Manzo, she is a first-generation student and she constantly encourages me and reminds me that I can reach my goal.

The best thing about my college experience:
Having the opportunity to learn about all the difficult but interesting science topics. I enjoy going home and telling my parents about the things I have learned and sharing the knowledge I have gained. It’s a privilege to be here and find everyday to be special.

What would you tell a first year student?
I would tell a first year student to take their time. My freshman year I saw how many units some students were taking and I felt like I had to do the same to keep up but my grades suffered. I wish someone would have told me that it was okay to take as many units as I felt like I could handle and to not compare myself to others.