Lydia Cruz

Student life at Oakton has helped Lydia Cruz build confidence and leadership skills and stay in touch with her heritage through community.
Growing up in Guam, Lydia Cruz felt at home with the island’s distinctive culture and diverse population. Then she moved to the Chicago area at age 12 and entered what felt like a different world.

“In Guam, I was surrounded by people of various cultures such as people from Southeast Asia, East Asia and other Pacific Islanders,” says Lydia, a liberal arts student at Oakton. “But once I came to America, I had to go back to square one and figure out my way through the different cultures of Chicago.”

After graduating from Maine South High School, Lydia enrolled at Oakton College with the goal of earning an associate degree and transferring to a four-year school to study art education. At Oakton, she’s found a vibrant community of people from around the world and a variety of opportunities to get involved and make an impact.

First, she got involved with COMPASS (the Center for Organizing Minority Programs to Advance Student Success), a groundbreaking program that provides culturally relevant academic advising for AAPI students, partners with local high schools to improve early college persistence, and implements faculty training and development programs. Launched in 2020, COMPASS is supported by an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISI) grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Oakton was the first community college in Illinois to win an AANAPISI grant.

Through COMPASS, Lydia signed up for the Asian American Student Leadership Institute (AASLI), a six-week program designed to boost leadership skills among Asian American students on campus. She enjoyed the program so much that she returned the following year to serve as an intern, planning events and managing projects related to the AAPI community at Oakton.

“Being part of groups like COMPASS has helped me think about my heritage and explore how I can advocate for the AAPI community,” Lydia says. “Advocacy is important, because even though we have more representation in the media than we used to, we still have a lot of work to do.”

She also participates in several student clubs and organizations on campus and works on the theater crew for Oakton’s Performing Arts Center. And in spring 2023, she was elected to represent her fellow students on the Oakton College Board of Trustees — a role in which she hopes to continue to promote student voices.

“The Asian American and Pacific Islander community want to know more about our roots, and we want to connect with our culture,” she says. “At Oakton, there are so many cultural groups and clubs that help students do just that.”

Student activities like PAYO and Korean Culture Club have broadened Lydia’s horizons for development at Oakton.

“Coming to Oakton, I really found my people,” she says. “I’m still growing and developing, but my experiences here have helped amplify my voice and given me confidence in becoming a leader.”