Some students want to be electricians and they only need a two-year program for that, so the fact that the goal was just to get students to pursue higher education at any level, I really resonated with that.

Natalia Esquivel - Silva

In a phenomena known as “summer melt,” many high school graduates plan to pursue higher education, but something derails them over the summer.

“They get confused, they don’t know how to fill something out, and then they don’t show up to their first day, and don’t show up for the rest of the year,” Natalia Esquivel - Silva (BA '18) explained.

It’s a chain of events that throws off the plans of many young people, with lifelong consequences.

Esquivel wants to share information that can help students stay on track, and she recently completed a year-long capstone internship aimed at helping with the transition into college as part of her studies in the University of Washington College of Education.

For one project, recent graduate Esquivel jointly created web-accessible checklists aimed at the transition phase in students’ lives as part of an effort to combat the phenomena. The lists walk students through each step they need to complete between high school graduation and their first day of college.

She said having guidelines—the transition checklist—helps students feel supported by providing information such as which forms to fill out and where to go to set up counseling appointments.

“Being a first-generation student, I know how much of a difference it can make to literally just be informed about things,” Esquivel said. “It was really cool to be able to roll that out for a lot of the schools that students in this region go to.”

Now an academic advisor at the University of Washington, Esquivel continues to support students as they plan for paths they’re passionate about. She uses her own experiences as a first-generation student from a low-income family as her guide.

“All of my family pretty much either worked in the fields or worked in a fruit warehouse, so I didn’t have connections with the HR manager at Microsoft or connections with the dean at the UW,” Esquivel said. “My parents are the most amazing, hard working parents that you can imagine, but those social networks weren’t necessarily there.”

Building those networks once in college was a struggle, but her time as an undergraduate led directly to her interest in helping other students.

“I do think there was a lot of support that I had, but had I had it sooner, I could have figured out, ‘Education is what I want to do,’ in my first year,” Esquivel said.

For her first years at the UW, she drifted between focuses in dentistry, nursing and other fields. She attributes some of her interests to influence by people around her. Until the end of her sophomore year, she was in what she described as an undecided state of “there’s no major that fits my interests.”

She eventually found a passion for working with students who were trying to get to the UW and enjoyed igniting an interest in students to pursue their education as far as they wanted.

The Education, Communities and Organizations (ECO) major in the College of Education turned out to be a perfect fit.

The capstone internship with the Puget Sound College & Career Network, which supports school districts and colleges across the region in helping students access higher education, allowed her to put all of her new knowledge into practice.

“I really liked that they weren’t necessarily going to push a four-year university for every student because I think that the organization understands that students want to do a variety of things,” Esquivel said. “Some students want to be electricians and they only need a two-year program for that, so the fact that the organization’s goal was just to get students to pursue higher education at any level, I really resonated with that.”

Critical to her studies at the College of Education was financial support. Esquivel received an ECO Engagement Scholarship which provided support for her work on equitable community engagement during the year-long, capstone internship. The scholarship compensated for the time, allowing her to pay rent while still completing the program.

“I was very thankful that they did that because it was a big time commitment for me and I ended up doing a lot of extra hours, but it was definitely worth it for me.”

Esquivel also received the Kenneth and Irma Mathisen Fellowship, which will give her a jumpstart as she enters the College’s Leadership in Higher Education graduate program.

As she heads into graduate school, Esquivel looks forward to discovering new opportunities to partner with communities, connect students to the UW, and guide students through academic advising to help them achieve their goals.

“I have done a lot of programs in my undergrad working on college access, and I feel like there is a lot of work being done by nonprofits in the area working on college access,” she said. “But there needs to be more work in colleges to retain the students that get here.”

Story by Olivia Madewell, marketing and communications student aide.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications