This story is a part of our ‘A Day in the Life’ series that highlights the career journeys of 2U employees across the world. From September 15 through October 15 we’re celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month and featuring members of one of our Business Resource Networks: TuGente.
Born in Mexico to a multicultural family, Larissa Romero-Perry spent her formative years split between her country and her mother’s home of England. It wasn’t until she was 11 that Larissa moved to the US and settled down in California, and that’s when she realized her passion for education.
“Growing up in California as a white-passing individual, I got a lot of push back about my heritage and my peers not believing I was from Mexico or that I could speak Spanish,” said Larissa. “This made me heavily interested in understanding different cultures and the diversity that surrounds the world, specifically in the US.”
Following in the footsteps of her parents, who are both faculty for the University of Northern Colorado, Larissa joined the university’s staff as a social justice graduate assistant while studying for her Masters in Educational Technology and second Masters in Educational Psychology. It was this opportunity that exposed Larissa to a whole new world of higher education and student affairs, a world that she has now spent more than 11 years navigating.
After finishing her degrees, Larissa went on to become an academic advisor at the University of Northern Colorado and, shortly thereafter, an enrollment coach. Larissa worked specifically with recruiting and coaching undocumented students, which brought her back to her initial interest in learning about the challenges faced by people of diverse backgrounds. She dug her heels in and committed to researching Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and what it’s like to be an undocumented student in the US. In doing so, Larissa quickly discovered that undocumented students have very little resources, mainly financial, but also are not able to be a part of federally-funded programs that supported traditional first-generation students. Inspired by her findings, Larissa became the founder of the DREAMer Engagement Program at the University of Northern Colorado, where she helped recruit, coach, and retain DREAMers and worked closely with their families to help provide resources and access to higher education.
In need of a change of scenery after nearly nine and a half years at the University of Northern Colorado, Larissa joined 2U in 2018. While first a student success advisor for the 2U-powered University of Dayton MBA program, Larissa soon found her way onto the first-ever bilingual team supporting the 2U-powered Tecnológico de Monterrey MBA program. It was the perfect opportunity for Larissa to connect her heritage and multicultural upbringing with her career.
Read on to learn about Larissa’s passion for student success, why she’s spent more than a decade in education, and her perspective on Heritage Month.
Why did you join 2U? What is it about the company that sparked your interest?
Having an extensive background in on-campus life, 2U sparked my interest because of its mission and values. I loved the idea that I could wear jeans to work while still focusing on what truly matters: STUDENT SUCCESS! I loved the fact that I could receive professional development, snacks, unlimited PTO—you name it! Knowing that I would be fully supported by leadership made me want to work harder.
How would you describe your role as an international student success coach?
When people ask me what I do, I tell them I am a holistic life coach for students, and I do it in two languages! I am very passionate about seeing students succeed. I learn about their lives inside and outside of the classroom in order to best support them. Research shows that if students have one aspect of their life that is not going so well, chances are their academics are going to suffer. I try to delve into their lives (or as much as they would like to share) to really understand what strategies they can implement to gain success. It could be time management, stress management, tips on how to read for graduate school, or maybe they just want to vent about their professors or their personal life. Student success advisors are here to help with it all!
You have spent your entire career in education. What is it about education that ignites your passion?
Growing up with a family of educators, I have always been inspired by giving students a chance to succeed. Knowledge is power, and one way to gain knowledge is to get a quality education, and I stand behind the different sectors I have worked in to provide that for students.
What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your job?
I love being able to provide resources for students. I am a problem solver, and I thrive off of finding solutions to create a positive outcome. One of the most rewarding experiences in my current role is being able to talk with students to provide a high-quality learning experience. I’m a helper at heart, and I love being able to facilitate problems and provide solutions.
One of the more challenging aspects of my role is launching a new program. Working with a new program, having to translate materials from scratch, rushing to meet deadlines and deadlines being moved around is definitely a challenge. However, I have grown immensely through it, and knowing that I was part of the inception of the first bilingual program at 2U has also become one of the most rewarding parts of my career.
What’s your favorite part about working at 2U?
I really love the people at 2U, and getting to know and meet people every day has been an amazing experience. I also love the flexibility to be involved in other areas that I am interested in to expand my growth in this role. I love how much I have grown and learned throughout my time here.
How has culture played a role in your career?
My culture and ethnicity is a huge part of my life. It’s something I think about every day. I think the most prevalent part has been not only being bilingual but having lived in Mexico growing up, especially during my high school years. This experience helped me understand fellow Latinos in a closer way and build connections with various people in different ways. Having this experience was beneficial in my work with undocumented students and families and has helped me get to where I am today, as a bilingual student success advisor.
What does National Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
Hispanic Heritage Month is important to me because I am a multicultural, bilingual, biracial, Mexican, and British immigrant. Coming to the US at 11, I did not understand the full extent of what my identity meant. But as I grew up in Mexico, England, California, and Colorado, I learned a lot about my identity, how people view me, how society views people, and how people view others who are different from them. I’ve learned that I do benefit from white privilege, and I have also learned how to own that privilege and use it to become an ally to my fellow friends and colleagues of color.
Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to acknowledge those Hispanic/Latinx folks who have been a part of creating what the US has now become. It’s a time to recognize and honor the civil rights leaders, the Chicano leaders, the families who have immigrated to the US and brought their families to better opportunities, the people who did not cross the border, but the border crossed them. It’s a time to remember the struggles we have all been through, to celebrate how far we have come, and also never forget that we still have a lot of work to do. It’s a time to come together and remember who we are as a community and why we are here: to keep fighting and seguir adelante!
On a more personal note, Hispanic Heritage Month is a reminder to embody my heritage and culture. My name “Larissa” is actually pronounced in Spanish like “Lah-dee-sah,” if you say it quickly. When I first moved to the US, I remember watching Clarissa Explains It All, and from that show, determining that my name should be pronounced “Lah-rih-sa.” It took me years and a lot of conversations with mentors and friends to realize the importance of going back to the original pronunciation of my name. Instead of hiding my heritage and culture, I wanted to embrace it, and so now, even though it may take people a few tries to say it right, I remind them to pronounce my name the way it was given.
How will you be celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month this year?
This year, as a leader of 2U’s TuGente, a Latino/a/x business resource network of 2Utes with a mission to educate, inform, and impact 2U, its employees, and the community at large, I am excited to celebrate through the multiple events we have to offer. I’m excited to build our Latinx community and allies within 2U! I plan on reflecting on my own story as well as those of others.
Out of everything you’ve done at 2U so far, what are you proudest of?
One of my proudest moments is launching the first bilingual international program at 2U, and a close second is being a leader of 2U’s TuGente business resource network. With TuGente, I am so excited to provide a space to connect and build community!
What advice would you give to someone just starting at 2U?
I would tell them that 2Utes work hard, but we also have a lot of fun. If you are interested in the “work hard, play hard” lifestyle, then 2U is for you! We are very dedicated people, but we also like to let loose and enjoy what we’re doing! Connecting with others is a huge part of this company. Whether it’s finding your little community of friends, joining a business resource network or social group, getting a mentor or mentoring someone, there’s always a space for someone at 2U, and if you haven’t found it, ping me! I’m happy to talk and build relationships and new connections!
Are you interested in a job like Larissa’s? Check out our Student Engagement team page for information on open positions. We’re hiring.
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