Profile: Hilaria Valdez Reyes
College is challenging in the best of circumstances. Add stressors like housing insecurity and learning a new language and even the most determined student feels like giving up at times. Hilaria Valdez Reyes has been there. She faced obstacles that would deter just about anyone. Yet she persisted and earned her degree at Lehigh Carbon Community College and recently graduated with her bachelor’s degree from Temple University.
Valdez will be the first to admit her journey through higher education was not easy. She came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic with her father when she was 16 years old. She’d planned to return and attend college in her native country, but due to a change in circumstances, Valdez stayed in the U.S. With a difficult road ahead of her, she enrolled at LCCC, but throughout her journey, she suffered from housing insecurity. She worked two jobs on campus, one in Admissions and the other in the Early Learning Center. LCCC representatives helped her along the way. “I didn’t understand anything about going to college. I had no idea how to complete a FAFSA or what any of it meant. I stayed at LCCC because of the support I found there,” she explains. Valdez was also an ESL student and had to master a new language. She took many of her courses at the Donley Center in Allentown initially and completed her degree at LCCC’s main campus in Schnecksville.
Valdez initially majored in social work at LCCC. She was drawn to this program because of her desire to help others, especially children. “When I went to college I went through many hard experiences. I understood how much of a need there is to help children,” she explains. Although she remained passionate about social work, the business field had its appeal. Valdez watched her aunt run a business in the Dominican Republic and felt business was in her own future. Valdez recognized that in many ways, businesses have even more opportunities to improve the lives of others through corporate philanthropy and other initiatives. She decided to switch her major to business administration: “I chose it because I had a class in international business. The professor taught us about two theories of international business—constructivism, where you show how much good you can do, and realism, where you’re in business because of a certain amount of power. When I look at business, I see both motives.” Valdez hasn’t completely abandoned her original plan to enter the field of social work. She joined UNICEF when she transferred to Temple University and says social workers can do so much to advocate for better policies to help children and underserved populations.
Some of the most important lessons Valdez learned at LCCC were not taught in the classroom. “One of the biggest things I learned was perseverance,” she recalls, adding on her first day of classes at Temple, she heard the expression “Perseverance never quits.” This could sum up her determination to reach her goals and work hard to overcome roadblocks along the way. Valdez is not the only student juggling a full schedule of classes, work and family commitments, and not the first to feel overwhelmed and often burned out by doing it all. “[There are] many times [when] you feel like quitting,” she admits. “What comes to you is not what matters—it’s how you face it.”
As graduation approached, Valdez started to think about her future and post-LCCC life. She met with now-retired, academic advisor Eileen Gaffney, whom she said helped her choose Temple University and worked with her “beginning to end.” Valdez was not aware of the college’s dual enrollment agreement with Temple (as well as several other colleges and universities). “My biggest concern was transferring and not have my credits be accepted,” Valdez explains. Fortunately, Valdez was able to continue her education and make the seamless academic transition to Temple.
Valdez moved to Philadelphia to start classes at Temple’s Fox School of Business, not knowing anyone in the city. Just as she had done at LCCC, Valdez worked hard and kept her end goal in mind. She graduated from Fox School of Business in January 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in international business with a concentration in international sales and business development. Her biggest takeaway from her studies was the idea of opportunity cost. “It is everything,” she explains. “What is the tangible cost behind the decisions you make?”
With her undergraduate career behind her, Valdez is looking ahead once again. Now living in Havertown, PA, Valdez plans to attend graduate school and earn a master’s degree in human rights. “I’m looking for a career in the international business field. Working for the United Nations would be a dream job. Right now I’m working on my professional development. I want to make a tangible impact on children, especially those who are homeless or in the foster care system,” she explains.
For any student who feels overwhelmed or discouraged, Valdez offers some perspective: “Life is about service. Ask yourself three questions. The first is, ‘Who do you want to serve?’ The second is ‘Why do you want to serve this person, agency, organization?’, and the third is, ‘With whom do you want to serve them?’ The answers to those three questions will set the course of your life if you answer them well.” She adds, “It’s important to network, but building your network is not about ‘What can this person do for me?’ When you’re serving a person or the community, you’re building your network. Service for me is the core of business, a career, a life. How can you provide a service without a servant’s heart?