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PROFILE: Memorial Scholarship Brings Her (and Her Family) Closer to Degree Dreams

When she graduates in June 2004, Tricia Barraza will be the first on both sides of her family to earn a college degree. And earn it she has. Tricia works almost full-time while taking more than a full class load and contributing to community and school groups.

Date: 8/11/2003 8:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Dottie Stover
UC ingot Tricia Barraza is following in the footsteps of other Latino students at UC while also marking a new path for those in her family.

Tricia with the healthy tools of her trade

Tricia, 24, and a resident of Groesbeck, is closing in on her goal: a college degree.  And when she receives her dietetics/nutrition baccalaureate, she’ll have earned it for more than herself.  It’s for her family too.

No one is Tricia’s family has ever earned a college degree before.  Her father came to the United States 35 years ago with one suitcase, eventually moving to Cincinnati and setting up a shoe repair shop…the trade his family had followed in Lima, Peru. 

He still runs the business – where he not only repairs shoes, but purses, apparel and other items  – while Tricia’s mom works as a bilingual operator.  Both have long demonstrated the value of dedication and hard work, and it’s these values that have sustained Tricia as she’s juggled a demanding class schedule, job responsibilities and leadership in local Hispanic and educational groups. 

“My dad never had the chance to go to college.  He had to learn English, work, adapt.     It was hard for him at first because there were so few Hispanics in Cincinnati then.  And my mom has attended only a few classes.  They’ve pushed us (Tricia and her brother, Danny, a physical therapy assisting student at UC) to get a degree.  The more education the better is their attitude,” says Tricia, who is this year’s recipient of the $1,000 Rafael Rennella Scholarship which memorializes the leadership and service of a young UC graduate who died unexpectedly in 1995 at the age of 26.

Tricia, a 1996 graduate of McAuley High School, took a rather round-about route to college.  At first, upon graduating high school, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do or study.  So, she enrolled in an 11-month vocational program at the Cincinnati School of Practical Nursing.  After earning her licensure as a Licensed Practical Nurse, Tricia entered the working world for several years.  Eventually, she realized that while she liked the health-care field, she had very little professional independence as an LPN.  She wanted more.

“I was working at Twin Towers Retirement Home where I’m still working, and I began talking to the dietician there.  I shadowed her to learn about her job, and it seemed such a good fit for me.  I still wanted to have direct contact with patients, but I also wanted the freedom to work more independently and to work with different populations,” explains Tricia, who was, still, a little hesitant to go to school full time while still maintaining her almost full-time working hours.  (Since she started back to school in the year 2000, Tricia alternates between full-time and part-time work weeks on the job.)

Tricia at work at Veteran
Tricia at work at Veteran's Hospital

Tricia came to UC, and at first, took only 12 credit hours in the Dietetics/Nutrition Program in the College of Allied Health Sciences.  She also maintained a number of her community service activities which then included volunteering as the assistant cheerleading coach at Purcell Marian High School, volunteering at Veterans Hospital and helping to start and run a local Peruvian dance group.

In time, as she began spending more time at UC – going from carrying only 12 credit hours to carrying as many as 21 – Tricia also traded most of the community activities for ones on campus, helping with events sponsored by the Student Dietetic Association and by the dietetic honor society, including low-fat baked sales, health fairs and screenings in partnership with UC’s Wellness Office..  She also participated in UC Latinos en Accion scholarship dances and other events to raise money for the group’s scholarships.  “We once had a concession stand at a basketball game to raise money for scholarships.  And afterward, we helped to clean up Shoemaker Center…it took till about 1 a.m.,” recalls Tricia.

The long days she puts in demand a lot from her in many ways.  “I like the patient contact in my volunteer and clinical sites, but sometimes, it’s like pulling teeth to try and convince patients that they need to follow the low-fat, low-cholesterol diets, that they’re medications will work better with proper diet.  For instance, you might think heart patients would be really motivated to eat well, but they’ll proudly tell me, ‘I eat a whole pound of bacon for breakfast,” she adds.

Her days are so full of work and study that Tricia jokes that she thinks about quitting about every other day.  “I said I was going to quit just yesterday.  I say it all the time,” laughs Tricia, “But I’m not.  I’m just venting.  My parents would kill me…Junior year was the hardest.  While you’re in it, it seems like it’s taking so long, but when I look back over my first three years, it feels like it’s just flown by.”

She credits her college, UC’s College of Allied Health Sciences, with helping her to persevere thanks to small class sizes and lots of access to faculty.  “Graduating with me will be about 15 other dietetics seniors.  Because we’re a small class, that’s made for greater friendships, and the faculty really push you to keep in touch with them, to ask questions, to make sure you’re on track,” Tricia adds.

And Tricia knows she is on track.  She knows she’ll finish this final year even though it means she’ll have to carry 18 credit hours each quarter to get in all her course requirements.  She says she’s just come too far not to finish now.  She wants to see her graduation day and so does her family.  It will be a milestone like the day her father became a U.S. citizen.  “He says that I was there that day, but I don’t remember it,” Tricia says.  Graduation day will be different.  It’s not a day she’ll soon forget. 

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