Iliana Diaz Medina Loves TRiO

Iliana Diaz Medina
Iliana Diaz Medina

Student Support Services smooths the way for Early Childhood student

Guadalajara Cathedral

Iliana Diaz Medina, 22, lived her first seven years in Guadalajara, Mexico, the capital of the state of Jalisco and the center of the country’s second largest metropolitan area with a population topping 4.3 million. Iliana’s family eventually settled in Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She attended elementary school at the Kaposia Education Center before enrolling at South St. Paul High School. As a ninth grader, she made the commitment to join the Dakota County Technical College TRiO Upward Bound program at South St. Paul.

“Once I heard about Upward Bound, I really wanted to do it,” Iliana recalled. “My dad was very protective and I never got the chance to participate in extracurricular activities after school. He talked to everyone and finally decided Upward Bound was a good idea.”

One of eight federal TRiO programs, Upward Bound is celebrating 50 years of providing fundamental support to high school students who are preparing to enter college. The students Upward Bound assists are from low-income families and/or families where neither parent has earned a bachelor’s degree. Upward Bound works to continually increase the number of program participants who complete their high school careers and go on to graduate from colleges and universities.

College was front and center in Iliana’s future, but she wasn’t sure what occupation would best engage her talents and temperament. As a tenth grader, she and her classmates visited a kindergarten class at Kaposia. She felt perfectly at home working with kids and quickly realized that teaching was the career path she wanted to follow. “I knew I was meant to be in that classroom,” she said.

Iliana in TRiO

Iliana thrived in Upward Bound, staying in the program through twelfth grade. “I enjoyed every moment,” she said. “We had so many creative opportunities. I was just a kid and didn’t know anything about applying to college. I would have been lost without Upward Bound.”

Jill Bjorklund, the Upward Bound academic advisor for both South St. Paul and Henry Sibley high schools, helped Iliana decide where she wanted to go to college. Jill pointed out that DCTC has an excellent Early Childhood & Youth Development program that is highly regarded by professionals in the field. The program also has an articulation agreement with the University of Wisconsin–River Falls. Iliana had visited the university’s campus twice during her time in Upward Bound and was thrilled by the idea of going to UWRF to earn her Early Childhood bachelor’s degree. Even better, Iliana loved the people she knew at DCTC from her time in Upward Bound, including Jill and Peter Onesirosan, the latter the college’s math tutor.

“Iliana is one of the hardest working students I have met. She is extremely independent, persistent and optimistic in spite of her academic and language barriers. She is also very kind and friendly. I love it when she stops by my office to update me on her life.” — Jill Bjorklund, TRiO Upward Bound Academic Advisor

“I started the Summer Bridge program in Student Support Services at DCTC right out of high school,” said Iliana, who received a $1,000 scholarship from South St. Paul. “I love school and didn’t want to wait.”

TRiO Student Support Services gave Iliana the opportunity to meet new people while taking advantage of tutors in the college’s Learning Center and computers specifically for TRiO students in the Instructional Technology Center. Cori Robinson, Iliana’s advisor in Student Support Services, has helped her register for classes and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

“Cori is always there for me,” Iliana said. “She has helped me become a lot more organized. One day she took a look at the mess in my backpack and said, ‘We need to fix this.’ I can go to Cori with any questions or concerns.”

“Iliana is a strong, determined and focused student. It has been a pleasure to watch her journey down her path from UB student to Summer Bridge SSS student (and continuing TRiO student) onto her upcoming graduation.” — Cori Robinson, TRiO Student Support Services Advisor

Iliana is pursuing her A.A.S. degree in Early Childhood & Youth Development. Her career goal is centered on becoming a preschool teacher. She loves that the ECYD program allows her to explore the teaching experience through hands-on projects. “I’m a very creative and very visual person,” she said. “Our labs and activities are just right for what I do best.”

A big fan of her ECYD instructors, Iliana noted how Dawn Braa, the program’s director, always keeps the lines of communication open. “I can e-mail, text and call Dawn if I need help,” she said. “And it’s easy to arrange a time to meet with her during office hours. The instructors care about you and want you to succeed.”

“I remember when Iliana first began in our program. She was reserved and soft-spoken. I noticed her smile right away. She brings with her an attitude of positivity and respect for those around her. She has come out of her shell in this program and that has been neat to be a part of. When faced with challenges, Iliana knows that there are people on campus that support her. She has demonstrated resolve and determination to continue her journey.” — Dawn Braa, Early Childhood & Youth Development Instructor

Iliana, who goes by the nickname Nana with her friends and family, resides in Inver Grove Heights with her mom and dad and three siblings, Brenda, 20, Brandon, 10, and Brian, 5. She works as a cashier and birthday coordinator at Chuck E. Cheese’s in West St. Paul, but will soon be joining Brenda at the family entertainment center’s Edina location. Iliana credits her job at Chuck E. Cheese’s with building her self-confidence. She met her boyfriend, Michael Johannson, a computer engineering student at the University of Minnesota, in Upward Bound, but they didn’t start dating until she was in college. Iliana was on the tennis team at South St. Paul High School along with Brenda, and she looks forward to playing more tennis as a favorite pastime in the future.

For more information about TRiO Upward Bound at DCTC, contact:
For more information about TRiO Student Support Services at DCTC, contact:
  • Cori Robinson
    TRiO Student Support ServicesUpward Bound Advisor
  • Xuong Tran
    TRiO Student Support ServicesUpward Bound Advisor
For more information about the Early Childhood & Youth Development program at DCTC, contact:
  • Dawn Braa
    Early Childhood & Youth Development Director and Instructor