Credit: Mia Alva
Cal State LA student Mia Alva found her footing in college after joining the college paper, the University Times.

California State University, Los Angeles was not my first choice. But after being denied from five other campuses, including my dream school, Whittier College, I didn’t have a lot of options.

From my first day at Cal State LA, I felt like I didn’t belong. I thought a lot about transferring to another college as soon as possible. I didn’t care where, just as long as it was somewhere else.

Today, I love Cal State LA. And I realized that my problem with the college had more to do with my poor attitude, which was rooted in my fears and insecurities about attending college in general. I took out my frustrations on poor Cal State LA – the one college that was willing to bet on me.

My attitude changed for the better as I became a part of the community. Joining the campus newspaper was my first big move in that direction.

During my first few weeks of classes, I felt as if I was the only student who cared to be there: I saw students cheating during a midterm right in front of the professor. A classmate, who I didn’t even know, asked me for the answers on a Chicano studies class quiz. During lectures, students scrolled through Instagram and Snapchat. And there was always a group of students laughing and talking in the back row during class.

I couldn’t connect with my classmates because most, if not all, lacked the drive to study and succeed in their courses, making it a challenge to even consider developing genuine friendships.

The few friends I thought I made during my first year at the college didn’t stick around when our courses ended. Some only used me for help on their tests and assignments. After the semester, I saw some of them around campus and waved, but they didn’t bother to wave back. I felt like a loner.

After a year in school, the pandemic hit, and everything changed.

Classes moved from in-person to online, and my motivation dropped even more. I struggled with not having a desk or internet access. My college experience was dramatically diminished.

The only journalism classes available online were in the television and film major department, so I got stuck taking film classes before I could take a single class on reporting. My classmates who studied film already knew how to work a camera for class assignments, while I had no clue about aperture settings and lighting principles. I just wanted to learn how to conduct interviews and write stories.

But my life turned around when I brought up my dreams of becoming a journalist to my film professor. He connected me with the journalism teacher who advised the newspaper.

Before I knew it, I was invited to my first news meeting at the University Times newspaper. On my first day on the job, the editors gave me a story assignment. I also met my first journalism mentor, who was the editor-in-chief for the newspaper. And I found the newsroom that I would soon call my second home.

The news team became my friends as they gave me advice and helped me improve my writing. They also became my second family.

I began to gain a better understanding of the whole Cal State LA community by writing about students’ concerns about not getting the mental health services they needed. While interviewing students about how they struggled to receive mental health services, I started to see my peers as people with their own fears and insecurities just like me.

That epiphany instantly connected me to my Cal State LA community, like a plug into a socket.

Being surrounded by aspiring journalists made me love journalism more because I was able to see how passionate they were about their education and chosen careers. My new mentor helped boost my confidence when he gave me tough edits that improved my writing. Other staff members got to know me fast and invited me to virtual game nights. All of that helped me to finally realize that I just needed to find the right people on campus and get to know them and let them get to know me.

I no longer felt like a loner.

The pandemic taught me not to run away from my problems. I learned to take one step at a time and try new things. Support from my friends and my mentor have led me to take on more responsibility — this fall I will be taking on the role of managing editor for our paper.

I love having an impact on my college community through my writing, and the opportunity to do so is a big reason why I continue to stay at Cal State LA.

Sorry, Golden Eagles, for misjudging you. Thank you for taking a chance on me.

•••

Mia Alva is a sophomore studying journalism at California State University Los Angeles and is an intern with EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps.

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