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Kristina Contreras: A non-traditional student leaving a major mark
By Janie Maitland
Walking into the Disabilities Resource Office, you can almost immediately spot Kristina Contreras. She sits at her desk, smiling behind her glasses as she types away. When I ask the receptionist for her, Contreras stands up and greets me with a warm smile and a handshake.
Contreras is a non-traditional student in Radford University’s accelerated program, working to get her bachelor’s degree and master’s at the same time. At the age of 39, Contreras is graduating in December with her bachelor’s in communication studies and a minor in English.
Contreras is from Southern California, in a town 40 miles inland from Los Angeles. She moved to Virginia when she was 34 to be with her husband. Contreras says she was a below-average student in high school. “In high school I was more interested in boys,” Contreras laughed, “and the theatre department.”
“By my senior year it was questionable if I was going to graduate, but I had a boyfriend,” Contreras said, “So my priorities were out of whack, needless to say.”
Contreras was never expected to go to college by her family, but she tried community college after high school. However, she put college on the back burner when she started working full-time to pay her bills. She doesn’t feel this set her back though, because at the age of 35 she felt more confident with her life experiences to pursue a degree.
Currently, Contreras is working on a research study to understand how alumni use of LinkedIn and other social networks helps their careers; as well as, in what way is their use beneficial to Radford University. She is also working on a 2-3 year study on the current presidential campaign right now. Recently, Contreras has been working on politically-based research, but she hasn’t always been interested in politics.
“I actually thought politics were kind of taboo,” said Contreras, “growing up, it was poor taste to talk about what party you believed in and things like that.”
Contreras credits Dr. Scott Dunn whose Political Communications course sparked her interest in politics. “He presented it in such a way that it didn’t really matter which side you were leaning towards,” she said, “it focused more on the history of the country and the politics of how the country runs.”
The advertising aspects of political communications and the campaigning tactics of candidates fascinated Contreras to the point where she felt more comfortable talking about politics. She feels that politicians dismiss college students too often, and feels that students need to be empowered with more political knowledge to feel that they can make a difference.
Contreras has presented at the Eastern Communications Association (ECA) Conference three times now, and says this has been one of her most amazing experiences. “I thought, why would an undergraduate go and present at this conference where there are all of these scholars from other universities?” Contreras says that being an undergraduate and presenting at this conference is “unheard of” and will be presenting again next year.
After she earns her master’s in December 2016, Contreras hopes to earn her doctorate at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, “provided that I get in.” After earning her doctorate, Contreras’ goal is to eventually teach higher education in communications.
Contreras’ biggest pieces of advice for alumni considering returning for grad school are to, “seize opportunities, that’s the most important thing, and you’ve got to create them,” along with, “don’t be afraid to take risks.”
Contreras is a prime example of how far hard work and determination can get someone. She’s an inspiration to undergraduate, graduate students to shoot for the stars and to alumni who may think it’s too late to return to school. Contreras’ stressed that your past, such as high school grades, don’t define you, your hard work and ability do. Contreras’ ambition will take her very far and she will continue to learn and grow in the next few years.