“No hay nada que no puedos lograr si te lo propones (there is nothing you can’t achieve if you put your mind to it).”
That is what Gabriela Vasquez says she constantly tells the younger girls she coaches.
As a senior Spanish major at Southern, Vasquez has accomplished much since coming to school including taking on many roles.
“All of those leadership roles that I had within the school, I took something from each and every single one of them,” says Vasquez.
“They all added in different ways to the person that I am today. And, I am grateful to be at a university that provides those opportunities.”
Vasquez, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, originally came to Southern with plans to continue playing volleyball, the sport in which she received several awards in both high school and college.
Vasquez has worked for Programs Council as a digital marketing coordinator in the Wellness Center, peer mentor in the Academic Success Center, and her art has been displayed prominently during Social Justice Month.
Currently, Vasquez works at Take A Chance Volleyball in New Haven where she uses her Spanish on the job.
“We mainly work with Hispanic girls that are looking forward to getting an opportunity,” says Vasquez.
According to Vasquez, some of the girls frequent Take A Chance Volleyball for recreational purposes, while others use their athletic skills to try and obtain scholarships to a university.
She works with girls of many different ages, the youngest being 10 years old, and the oldest 18. Each student comes from a different background.
“That’s been really rewarding to see them grow each day,” she says. “They look up to me a lot, and they’re really competitive. I am just proud of them for everything that they do.”
In her free time, she says she likes to paint. After she began painting in December 2018, she then posted her art in January 2019. To Vasquez, painting is very therapeutic and as an RA at Schwartz Hall, she has hosted many events catered around painting.
“I just really enjoy the process of making art,” says Vasquez.
After participating in an event at the Multicultural Center, she painted a photo of Nipsey Hussle, a rapper and activist who, according to Vox, has worked to empower and employ underprivileged groups through real estate investments, science and tech learning centers for teens and other efforts in inner-city Los Angeles prior to his death in March 2019.
In addition to her painting of Hussle, Vasquez says she has also painted graduation caps for students and sorority paddle boards.
Vasquez had five of her pieces displayed at many events during Social Justice Month in association with the Latin American and Caribbean Studies program.
She was also presented with the opportunity to meet Sonia Nazario, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and featured speaker for Social Justice Month. Vasquez’s art was featured on the cover of the Nazario event program brochure.
Originally, Vasquez says she was hoping to be a Spanish teacher, but felt that she wanted to do more.
“I decided to take communications and practice professional presentations so that can help me,” she says.
Vasquez will eventually work toward a master’s degree in business administration and finance. She says she wants to bring her skills to another level and wants to become a professional.
Anay’s Cruz, hall director of Schwartz Hall, says she has seen Vasquez grow since she began as an RA two years ago.
“She has accomplished so much,” says Cruz. “The first thing I can think of is personally I have seen Gabby grow so much in her personal life. She does a lot for other people and I think being an RA has taught her how to balance herself while still being able to help others.”
Cruz says she has noticed how Vasquez has grown in her communication skills and now is not afraid to go up and speak to an audience. She also takes her leadership skills very seriously and asks Cruz if she can host events for the hall.
Vasquez says she cannot stress enough how important education is and she wants to teach other girls out there who may think lowly of themselves that they can follow their passions if they believe in themselves.
“I would definitely say she is a big role model because of where she has come from, and where she is now. She came here not knowing English, not knowing anyone, and she has made a lot of connections for herself,” says Cruz.
“So, I would say she is a role model to show them that you can accomplish these things no matter all the barriers that you are facing, and I feel like she has faced a lot coming to the United States.”