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Fellows in the Field: Keila’s Story

Keila Itzun, a 10,000 Degrees Fellow who surmounted many challenges during her own college journey, tells an inspiring story about how she was able to reconnect with a student who was struggling in school due to pandemic-related stress, and re-engage them in their education.

All her life, Keila said that people naturally assumed that she would never go to college. “They said I’d probably get pregnant and drop out,” Keila said.

When Keila was a student at San Rafael High School, she thought that her Latina advisor, who shared a similar background, would have a different vision for her. But the advisor assumed her options were limited and didn’t inform her of any other choices. It wasn’t until her junior year that a 10,000 Degrees Fellow informed her that she was actually qualified to apply to UCs and CSUs.

Fast forward to today. Keila is a graduate of Sonoma State University, and now a 10,000 Degrees Fellow, helping students in the very same high school she attended. And now with COVID-19, she’s had the opportunity to help students most affected by the pandemic. Keila and all 10,000 Degrees Fellows redoubled their support during this time to keep our students connected to and engaged with their education.

“I don’t just call my students and move on. I keep reaching out to them. Even if a student doesn’t respond right away, they know I will always be there for them. They’ve really appreciated the patience I have for them during this challenging time.”

Keila Itzun
10,000 Degrees Fellow
Sonoma State University, 2019

Keila recently had a particularly rewarding moment with one student.

For the past two months since we’ve been in lockdown, I have been checking in with my students weekly to make sure they are well and to support them through college and with financial aid applications. But there was one student who wasn’t responding to my calls or messages,” Keila said. 

After a few weeks, the student finally picked up the phone. 

At first, I was thinking – did something happen to this student? I was worried but let the student talk and stayed calm,” she said. 

The student apologized and explained that he was having a really hard time adjusting given everything going on in his life due to the pandemic. 

I feel badly,” he said, “because you’re always letting us know of updates and checking in on us. I’ve been reading your messages, but I’ve been bad at responding.” 

The student was concerned that Keila would be disappointed in him, so Keila reassured him during their check-in. She started by asking how he was and how school was going, and then slowly reviewed what he needed to do. 

I caught him up step by step – not to overwhelm him. That was the key. I said to him, ‘if we don’t finish this today, we’ll follow up on it later.’ We then came up with a plan for what would work over the coming weeks.” 

She ultimately helped the student complete their financial aid application for 2020-21, and learn how to schedule an appointment with a College of Marin advisor by having the student share their screen. In time, the student was able to create their Educational Plan and register for classes next semester. 

The student was excited and thanked me for being patient and supportive, and for believing in them,” Keila remarked.