First-generation college graduate Grace Soto ’17 forged a path to success marked by hard work and a passion for community and service.
(Photo by Scott Cook)
Seeking to become the first college graduate in her family, Grace Soto ’17 enrolled at Rollins looking for a “window of opportunity.” Over the past four years, that window has grown brighter by the day, shining light on a world of possibilities she never imagined—at least this soon in life.
Part of Rollins’ inaugural Bonner Leaders class, the Fort Lauderdale native logged more than 1,000 service hours and worked as the program’s senior intern during her time as a Tar.
She also led an immersion trip to Tampa to study human trafficking, held large and small internships (with global digital manufacturing giant Jabil and the Fern Creek Elementary School foundation), spent semesters abroad in New Zealand and Spain, advocated for suicide prevention, tutored students, and taught preschool children at Temple Beth Orr.
“One of the biggest things I’m proud of is working 40-hour weeks on top of being a full-time student,” says Soto, who minored in social entrepreneurship and business. “Rollins gave me the chance to combine my math and computer science background with my passion for community and service.”
A few months into her first real-world job, Soto sat down with us to reflect on her time at Rollins.
(Photo by Scott Cook)
How did it feel landing such a great job? “It was more than a dream because I didn’t think I had a shot right out of college.”
Your Rollins network helped you get a foot in the door, right? “Definitely. I had a computer science capstone course, and one of the people on my team (a Holt student who works at Lockheed) kept telling me to apply. Then, another Rollins alum put in a good word for me when he saw my résumé on the hiring manager’s desk, and that pushed me to the next round of interviews.”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? “Working at the intersection of technology and philanthropy.”
What does it mean to be your family’s first college graduate? “It means a lot to my family, especially since we kind of grew up in poverty. My family knew the importance of education—they just didn’t know how to get there. At the end of my senior year, though, my aunt sat me down and gave me a list of where to apply. She made me write a bunch of essays, and I didn’t have any idea about these schools other than what people were telling me. Rollins was probably the last place I thought I’d be, but I applied and got a good financial aid package. That was my window of opportunity.”
How much has being a Bonner Leader helped you? “One of the greatest things about the Bonner program is that it’s a community you build and the community you come in contact with. The Center for Leadership and Community Engagement is a really big department that has several close-knit connections with organizations all over Orlando, and because of that I’ve had a lot of opportunities. I’ve definitely been exposed to different types of community service, and seeing a little bit of everything gives you a better picture of how a community interacts.”
Where did your service mindset originate? “Part of it was growing up Jewish, and the Jewish culture has always embraced helping other people. For example, my mom and grandma always have food ready because ‘you never know who’s going to walk in the door.’ In other words, don’t turn anyone away.”
(Photo by Scott Cook)
What does it mean to be part of the Rollins family? “When I studied abroad my junior year and told people what school I was from, I never expected anyone to know about Rollins, but they did. And when I went out in the community and mentioned I was with Rollins College and a Bonner Leader, people had a good idea of my background and capabilities. I have a community service type of view on the Rollins family—in addition to the professors, students, and alumni, it’s also about all the community partners we have.”
Who’s your favorite professor? “Jay Yellen in the math department. Even though he’s super tough, he’s a super-nice person who thinks very highly of his students. He’ll be really annoyed if you miss class, but he’ll also sit down with you for hours to study and go over coursework. Plus, I love when he invites students to do ‘Art with Jay’ at the museums.”
Any hobbies or stress relievers? “Mostly hiking and high-adventure things like whitewater rafting and bungee jumping. I also draw and paint.”
How has Rollins prepared you for what lies ahead? “By giving me a diverse way of thinking about complex issues. One of the biggest things about life is that it’s messy and unpredictable. I’ve learned so many ways to adapt to different situations and different people. It’s going to be a little scary as an adult, but I feel prepared for whatever comes my way.”
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