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Bianca posing with her son while holding an “Outstanding Future Alumni Award”.

The Pregnant Scholar Team recently chatted with Bianca Estrada, a student parent and campus organizer at California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB). Bianca is currently pursuing her Master’s of Social Work. She became a passionate advocate for pregnant and parenting students when she was pregnant and felt invisible on campus.

Keep reading to learn more about what Bianca has been up to, including her successes and her challenges, and what she recommends for students who find themselves in a similar situation:

How old is your son, and when in your education did you have him?

My son is 5 years old. I found out I was expecting during my first semester as an undergrad and I gave birth in Spring 2017. I did have to take the remainder of that semester off; however, I returned in Fall 2017.

What has your experience been in college? How has having your son impacted your experience? 

As an undergraduate it was difficult. I felt invisible on campus, and the emotions I felt motivated me to become a passionate advocate for pregnant and parenting students. My experience at CSUMB has improved over the years; however, there is always room for improvement. My son has changed my life; parenting is scary but the most rewarding journey I could have asked for. Because of him, I found strengths I never knew I had: my voice, and my passion for advocacy. He is my daily reminder of why parenting students like myself pursue higher education. I recognize that to be a better person and a better parent, I will have to work hard to live the life we deserve. I have made it my goal to demonstrate the importance of education and to lead by example when it comes to my son.

What is the most challenging part of being a student parent? What have you heard from other student parents about the challenges they face? 

The most challenging part about being a student parent is initially the no sense of belonging, as we often have to wonder if we are allowed to bring our children to campus events. Also, the increased financial demands while pursuing higher education leaves parenting students feeling like they have to choose between being a parent or a student. 

What are a few accomplishments you’ve helped lead on CSUMB’s campus to best support pregnant and parenting students? 

  1. Baby changing stations 
  1. Lactation rooms 
  1. Family friendly club 
  1. Family friendly study room in library 
  1. Currently working towards the CCAMPIS (Childcare Access Means Parents in School) grant 
  1. Let’s Talk Parent Wellness support group 
  1. Family Friendly Affinity Graduation 

You can read more about Bianca’s accomplishments in the Monterey Herald and find more information about these resources on CSUMB’s website.

What accomplishment was the most important to you personally, and why? 

It is difficult to pick one. I would say the baby changing stations and the Family Friendly Library. The baby changing stations project was the moment I got out of my comfort zone; I found my voice and the power that comes with speaking up. The Family-Friendly Study Room is another example of me getting out of my comfort zone and grabbing an opportunity. It started as an idea for a grant proposal assignment and while my proposal was used as a template, I am very grateful for the family-friendly advisors and librarians who took this idea and made it happen.

What would you say are the ‘top three’ challenges facing student parents on CSU-MB’s campus and what are your recommendations for solving those challenges?

  1. Data Collection: Collecting data on student parents is important because it visually highlights the need and it also helps the university provide adequate resources and support.  
  2. Basic Needs Policy: Amending the ‘basic needs’ policy on CSUMB’s campus would support expanding resources to the dependents of parenting students. It would also build a sense of belonging by including family-friendly events. 
  3. Student Parent Center: There is no designated location for parenting students to inquire about resources such as a one-stop Student Parent Center. This [would be] an important resource because it provides a sense of community and support and is a designated safe place where children are welcomed while parents learn about resources available to them on campus. In addition it would be helpful to have off-campus connection outreach (for example, a representative for CalWORKs, Women Infant Children (WIC), and other agencies). 

What is the best part about working with other student parents on your campus? 

The best part about connecting with other parenting students on campus is building, promoting, and strengthening an inclusive community which includes growing relationships and support systems.  

If you could give one piece of advice to student parents on advocating for change on campus, what would it be? What do you wish you knew when you were first starting this work? 

Don’t be afraid to speak up! Your voice matters. The right person will listen. When you come across that person hold on to them and continue to build connections.  

Tell us about your long-term vision for CSUMB’s campus and its student parents.

My long-term vision for the CSUMB’s campus is to continue to recognize parenting students and promote a family-friendly campus. I also want to partner with other organizations in Monterey Bay to ensure student parents have access to support and resources both on- and off-campus.  

What’s next for you? What are your goals post-graduation? 

I want to continue working with parenting students as an off-campus connection and explore programs and resources around maternal mental health. My ultimate goal is to someday open a non-profit where resources will be available to parents who would like to pursue higher education. I am not sure what it would look like exactly but my vision is to help as many parents reach their goals!

If you could speak directly to other student parents who are facing challenges getting their degree, what would you tell them? 

I know it’s hard, and I know sometimes quitting doesn’t sound so bad, but I am here to tell you my secret: when I feel just like you must be feeling now, I look at my son, I hug my son, and when he tells me he loves me I remember my WHY. My son deserves a future he can be proud of. Kids are smart, talk to them about why you go to school, why you stay up doing homework late, talk to them about why you have so many meetings. Including your kids in the process doesn’t take away the challenges, but it does create memories and motivation.

Go, Bianca! The Pregnant Scholar Team is rooting for you!

Are you a pregnant or parenting scholar who wants to share their story? Reach out and let us know here.

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