When Xiomara Contreras arrived at Northwestern as a communication studies major in 2013, she was unsure of her future. With the support of a career coach and inspired by her classes, the Chicago native and daughter of Mexican immigrants found herself on an unexpected path from first-generation college student to product marketing manager at Google. Passionate about social impact, she’s now determined to help other Latinx and first-generation college students.
Contreras recently became a mentor with the Northwestern Alumni Association’s Affinity Leaders and Learners (ALL) Mentorship Program. It matches students to alumni with similar backgrounds, experiences and identities. Since launching in December 2020, the ALL Program has paired nearly 600 Asian and Asian American, Black, Latinx and LGBTQ students and alumni.
Contreras shares why she joined the ALL Program and believes in the power of mentorship.
What brought you to Northwestern?
It was important to me to be around a diverse group of people and to find a community of Latinx students. I needed to be reminded that our experiences matter, that we belong at institutions like Northwestern. Honestly, my first visit secured my desire to go to this university; I met that community on my visit day.
What were some of your favorite classes?
My favorite courses were in ethnic studies. I minored in Latina and Latino studies and took a lot of African American studies and sociology classes that changed my perspective and how I navigated the world. There’s a lot of history that was not taught in my elementary and high school. Through these courses, I felt more empowered and realized I wanted to contribute to making the world better.
What set you on the path to Google?
A bunch of my friends and I participated in Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), a program that helps Black, Latinx and Native American students enter the corporate workforce. A coach helps you understand your interests, strengths and values and how they align with the type of company you want to work for. MLT connected me to Google’s internship program. Since then, I’ve advocated for Northwestern students to apply.
Why did you become a mentor with the ALL Program?
When the NAA first announced the program, I thought I’d really love to mentor another Latinx student at Northwestern. I remember thinking it would have been valuable to have a mentor as an undergraduate, especially someone with similar experience. With a mentor, you can be honest and vulnerable and say, “Actually, I don’t know what I’m doing.” Sometimes you just need someone to hype you up, to keep it real, to remind you that you’re valuable. I want to help others navigate that process.
Why should alumni join the ALL Program?
Nurturing a mentee’s sense of belonging early on can help them excel. If you enjoy helping people, being a mentor is a very fulfilling experience.