Hispanic alumni offer advice to help students navigate college and life

Success Stories Of Hispanic Alumni
Success Stories of Hispanic Alumni virtual panel

The Success Stories of Hispanic Alumni virtual panel held earlier this month featured four Notre Dame graduates who have gone on to have outstanding careers in technology, medicine, and law. The panelists shared their achievements – as well as some lessons learned along the way – in the hopes of providing guidance to Hispanic and Latino students currently studying at the University.

The event – presented by the Institute for Latino Studies, the College of Arts and Letters, and Hispanic Alumni of Notre Dame – is a signature Hispanic Heritage Month event held in response to students’ desire to connect with alums who share their cultural heritage and experience.

Cristina Gonzales, chair of the Hispanic Alumni of Notre Dame, noted that the organization exists for all within the Latino community – whether one identifies as Latino, Latine, Latinx, or Hispanic. “We wanted to do [the panel] initially to help provide mentorship opportunities because students were asking for that,” she said. “Specifically, Hispanic and Latino students were asking for people who look like them to help mentor them and provide them with some guidance, but this is also a good opportunity to highlight what amazing alumni we have.”

There are many successes to be celebrated among the panelists:

  • Alfredo Arvide ’05 is chief innovation officer at software developer Blue People, and co-founder/managing director of the mobile software platform Cloche Restaurant Services, Inc. A versatile technology expert, marketing director, entrepreneur, and people developer, Arvide brings an innovative approach to solving business problems.

  • Dr. Joaquin G. Cigarroa IV ’09, an interventional cardiologist, received his medical degree and completed his internal medicine residency at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. While there, he also served as a chief resident and as a junior faculty member in the Department of Medicine.

  • Dr. Carlos Gomez-Meade ’01 is a cutaneous oncologist. After earning his osteopathic medical degree from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, Texas, he completed a family medicine internship and residency, a dermatology residency, and a fellowship in Mohs Surgery.

  • Kelly Rivera Salazar ’00, earned her juris doctor degree from Baylor Law School. She is now a capital partner in the law firm of Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson. Salazar also serves as president of the Hidalgo County Bar Association and president-elect of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. Joaquin Cigarroa
Dr. Joaquin Cigarroa

However, some of the alums’ most powerful advice came by way of failures they experienced or things they might have done differently.

Cigarroa explained that he didn’t feel like he belonged when he first arrived on campus – perhaps because he grew up in Laredo, Texas. The small town is about 99 percent Hispanic, and a large number of his high school classmates commuted every day from Mexico. He was admittedly intimidated when he arrived at Notre Dame.

“I think the greatest piece of advice that I would tell myself back then is just to shed that imposter syndrome early. I definitely felt for the first at least semester, to probably the whole first year, that I just didn’t belong,” he said. “I could have alleviated a lot of that undue burden on myself had I believed that I was picked to be a part of the Notre Dame family the same way that the other 2,000 students were, and that I wasn’t there because of some glitch in the system.”

Kelly Rivera Salazar
Kelly Rivera Salazar

The transition to college life also proved challenging initially for Salazar – who was juggling classwork with work study responsibilities and her role as captain of the cheerleading team. She reminded the audience that it’s OK to not be the best at everything and that sometimes a change of study or career path can be the right choice.

“I reflect on my time at Notre Dame where the As I was getting in high school, I wasn’t getting, and the things that I was doing in high school weren’t working in college. So I had to adjust and once I did then I was off and running,” she said. “I carry that experience with me every day in my professional career. If the method that I utilize is not working, maybe it’s a ‘me’ problem and it’s not a ‘them’ problem, and so I’m in constant reflection … self-evaluation is so important. Not only that but getting outside your comfort zone can lead to huge successes in your career and your professional growth.”

When students or others are struggling or unsure about what to do, Arvide recommended being proactive in finding a mentor.

Alfredo Arvide
Alfredo Arvide

“The first step is asking for help,” he pointed out. “I’ve had multiple mentors in my career, and I would never have thought that they would be my mentors if I didn’t ask them for help. So I just reached out and said ‘Hey, I’m struggling with this, or need to get into this, or want to change careers or whatever. Can you help me out?’ And typically people feel very good when they get approached in that way. I know that when somebody asks me ‘Hey, will you be my mentor?’ Yes, sure, absolutely. I can help you with whatever you need. If you ask for help, I think they will reciprocate.”

If Gomez-Meade could offer some words of wisdom to his younger self, he would underscore the importance of hard work and developing a strong prayer life. “I tell my kids ‘Work hard, but pray harder.’ Nobody should ever outwork you. You can’t control the kind of math gifts, science, gifts, or geography gifts that you’ve inherited, but you can definitely control your work ethic. But no matter how hard you work, you pray harder,” he said.

Dr. Carlos Gomez-Meade
Dr. Carlos Gomez-Meade

Gomez-Meade described how he incorporates prayer into his daily routine and how it has helped him in his life. While he wishes he began the practice earlier in life, he said students can learn from him and start now right on campus.

“There’s so many places. We’ve all spent time at the Grotto, the basilica, in your dorm chapel. Use it to your advantage,” he urged those watching. “You’re in a very holy place and there are tons of places to build your spiritual growth there. What better place in America, honestly?”

To view a recording of the virtual panel, please click here.

Paloma Garcia-Lopez, associate director of the Institute for Latino Studies, said events like the Success Stories of Hispanic Alumni virtual panel are one avenue for Notre Dame students, faculty, and staff of all backgrounds to better understand and help advance the future of the Latino community.

“Next year, ILS celebrates its 25th anniversary, and it took many students and alumni to start the Institute and to keep it going over all of these years, so it’s a great honor for us to convene this webinar with five outstanding alumni that are active in Hispanic Alumni of Notre Dame as well as had active histories as students here on campus.”