IU Northwest alumna overcomes obstacles to a rewarding public service career
Sometimes it’s difficult not to feel like an imposter. Whether it’s at a new job or in a new degree program, many of us have a predisposition to feel like we don’t belong.
At first, that was the case for Paulina Ugalde. When she began attending Indiana University Northwest, she had just moved to Northwest Indiana from Mexico. Not only did Ugalde have to get used to a new language and culture, but she had to learn to navigate the U.S. college admissions process.
Fortunately for the 2019 graduate, she found a simple enrollment process at IU Northwest. “I chose IUN for many reasons, among them the close proximity to my house, which allowed me the flexibility to care for my kids,” Ugalde said.
“Coming from another country and not being very familiar with the way things work here, the campus was able to guide me through everything and were very kind.”
Faculty mentorship was also extremely instrumental to her success. She named a long list of faculty members who helped her along the way, notably IU Northwest Professor of Economics Surekha Rao.
“[I had] impostor syndrome, the feeling that you don’t belong in that place and that everybody else around you is smarter, better, or more capable. Dr. Rao was the first one to tell me I had a lot of potential and I really started believing it,” she said.
That belief in herself went a long way. After completing her economics degree at IU Northwest in 2019, she was accepted into the prestigious Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. Then in 2021, she landed a role in sunny Phoenix working for the Raza Development Fund as an investment analyst.
“[Raza] provides access to capital to other organizations that provide services to our most vulnerable communities,” Ugalde said. “We finance charter schools, trade and technical schools, affordable housing developments, federally qualified health centers, social services programs, and more.”
Helping others thrive
She said that while community members may not know who they are, she and the Raza team are hard at work behind-the-scenes increasing opportunities for Latino and low-income families—across the United States.
That mission hit home for Ugalde. When she first arrived in the U.S., she was a young mother with two kids and no full-time job. “I was always in a different situation than many of my peers—I had to think about how every endeavor would allow me to take care of my kids. It was hard financially,” she said.
Fortunately, she enjoyed the support of her mother and fiancé (now husband) along the way.
Looking back on the past few years, Ugalde has a lot to be proud of. But the most rewarding part for her is the knowledge that she didn’t let anything get in the way of her goals.
“I was capable to not only emigrate from Mexico and start over, but to really succeed in doing so. I came here with a lot of fear of the unknown, and I proved myself, even with two kids,” she said.
Outside of school and work, Ugalde and her family have a taste for adventure. She loves using her free time to explore nature with her family and grow her homestead (current count: five chickens, two dogs, and a cat).
As she creates a thriving homestead and career, it’s clear that the heart of Ugalde’s story is community support. “Do not be afraid to ask for help and resources,” she said. “Find a mentor—they will have the best interest in you, open your mind to new ideas, and bring yourself into spaces where you thought you didn’t belong.”
Ugalde’s experience reminds us to reject the “imposter” label and work toward our goals without holding ourselves back. After all, at IU Northwest there are plenty of campus and community resources and mentors who are willing to help others succeed.