Alma De Los Santos
Alma De Los Santos ’24 to Earn MSW at Columbia

Degree: B.S. in Forensic Psychology
Programs: The Percy Ellis SEEK (Search for Education, Elevation & Knowledge) Program

Mentors: SEEK Advisor Christian Luperon
Internship: New York Peace Institute

Hometown: Harlem, NY
Career Aspiration: Licensed Clinical Social Worker

What was life like before John Jay?
My parents immigrated to this country from the Dominican Republic and Ecuador. I struggled a lot with depression at a young age. I didn’t have a lot of friends and I got bullied in school. My parents didn’t really understand what I was going through because, as immigrants, they didn’t have the same experience in their countries. It made me feel alone. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m interested in working in the mental health field. I don’t want other people to feel alone.

Why John Jay?
My parents believed that going to college and getting an education was important for my future success. When I was applying to colleges, I was interested in becoming a detective or an FBI agent because of all the crime-related television shows I saw, but when I got to John Jay, I realized that psychology was my real passion. I wanted to figure out how the mind works so that I could help others thrive.

How has the SEEK program enhanced your experience at John Jay?
From the very beginning, as a first-year student, my SEEK advisor, Christian Luperon, pushed me out of my shell. As a first-gen student, I was shy and didn’t know how to navigate college. Being in SEEK created this supportive bubble around me. We had special SEEK advisors, tutoring, and classes. I developed friendships with my SEEK peers, and I felt a close camaraderie with my cohort class. SEEK also introduced me to ICORP (Innovative Career Opportunity and Research Program), which gave me psychology research experience that was a big stepping stone toward my career goals. It was a three-semester internship where we created a hypothesis, conducted research, found statistics, and presented our findings at the graduate school center. ICORP also guided me through the whole process of applying to a master’s degree program and sent me to a research symposium in New Orleans. Another aspect of SEEK that really helped me was their career workshops. At one of them, a social worker gave us advice about the field that inspired me to continue my career path.

What are your post-graduate plans?
I was accepted into Columbia University’s School of Social Work. When I found out, I started crying because I couldn’t believe they accepted me. When I went to an information session at Columbia, I was impressed with all the resources they have in the program. Many of their classes are focused on community, not just the individual’s outcome, which appealed to me. In the future, I want to work with the homeless population. You need to understand the community to help them. We have a huge homeless population in New York City. I empathize with them and see their humanity. 

What was your experience as a student-parent like?
It’s tiring. I’m a full-time student with a job, two internships, and a two-year-old baby. When I come home, I know that he’s been waiting to see me all day. I’m usually exhausted, but he’s energetic and wants me to play with him. He’s my heart, but I also have to cook, clean, get him ready for bed, and do my homework. Being a student-parent made me more intentional with my time. If my friends want to go out, I tell them that I have homework or need to spend time with my son. Being a mother has matured me, but sometimes I feel overwhelmed and just start crying. Then I look at Aiden and I know it’ll all be worth it in the end. I’m working hard so that he’ll have a better life.