From trauma to triumph

February 9, 2016


Language barriers scarred her earliest memories, but Maria Kuripet Diaz used that experience to win a BizFest scholarship

Maria Kuripet Diaz, winner of a BizFest scholarship through the JCCC Foundation, is sure that without those funds, she’d never be successful in college.

She imagines herself as a receptionist at a car dealership, trying to squeeze in classes after her 40 hours.

“To be completely honest, I feel like eventually I would have dropped out,” she said. “There have been doors that have shut in my face, and had I not gotten a scholarship, or had been told ‘no’ just one more time, I would have thought, ‘Well, maybe this is a sign,’” she said.

Making the choice

Kuripet Diaz chose to attend Johnson County Community College because of the scholarship and the affordability, she said, but she was impressed by the opportunities once she enrolled at JCCC.

“I always knew that JCCC was not the underdog, but it was undervalued,” she said. “A lot of people call it ‘juco’ (short for junior college), and I realized it’s not a juco.”

She finished her associate degree in liberal arts in only 1-1/2 years, transferring to the University of Kansas to major in accounting.

As a first-generation college student, she’s paving the way for her little brother. Will he attend JCCC? “He has no other choice,” she said, only half-joking.

“When we were growing up, my mom would say ‘when’ we go to college, not ‘if,’” Kuripet Diaz said.

Her parents moved from Mexico to the United States when Maria was a toddler. Her mother left school with a ninth-grade education, but she stressed education to her daughter.

Language barriers brought down

Kuripet Diaz’s first experience with U.S. education was preschool – an experience that still gives her nightmares.

“My parents never realized they should be speaking to me in English as well as Spanish, so my first day, I didn’t know what anyone was saying. It was terrifying,” she said.

By interacting with her bilingual cousins, she learned English well enough to leave her English as a Second Language class, and she graduated from Olathe East High School in 2014.

Her Bizfest project reflects her traumatic early experience. In the competition organized by the Greater Kansas City Hispanic Collaborative, high school students learn “life skills and business techniques,” according to GKCHC.

Maria’s entrepreneurial plan was to set up workplace lunch-and-learn sessions where Spanish speakers learned English and English speakers learned Spanish. The approach would be collaborative, with co-workers teaching each other. The goal was not only to learn a new language but to break down cultural barriers as well.

For the future

Kuripet Diaz credits her scholarship as the reason she keeps studying. She also wants to honor the faith bestowed in her by people like Melisa Jimenez, JCCC recruitment coordinator, and her high school mentor, Erik Erazo.

Most of all, she wants to honor her parents. “My goal is to make my parents very proud of me. I also want to see myself very successful in a career in accounting firm,” she said.

“The fact that someone did believe in me – I don’t want to let them down.”