As a tour guide for the St. Olaf College Admissions Office, Karina De Leon ’18 leads prospective students around campus through the ever-changing weather of Minnesota — from the hot, humid days of early fall to the frigid, snowy days of winter.
But one thing never changes. She always makes a point to tell these students what drew her to St. Olaf: the sense of community.
The daughter of Mexican immigrants who had not attended college, De Leon found St. Olaf with the help of her high school counselor. The counselor saw that she thrived in smaller classes and had a big personality.
“When the St. Olaf admissions officer told my counselor about the school, he thought it was perfect for me,” says De Leon, a native of Houston, Texas. “It’s small, but it’s also a place where I can be myself and try new things.”
As part of the Fly-in Visit Program, De Leon was able to visit St. Olaf with 24 other students from around the world. Having already toured several colleges, she assumed this would be just another college visit. But that all changed when she arrived on campus and found a warm, welcoming community that offered seemingly endless opportunities to learn and grow.
During the college’s Admitted Student Day program, President David R. Anderson ’74 called prospective students to stand if they would be an Ole in 2014 and asked them to join in the college’s fight song. The choir burst through the back doors of Boe Chapel and ran down the aisles to meet at the front for a rousing round of Um! Yah! Yah!
As students rose to their feet, De Leon realized that she had finally found the school where she belongs. Walking out of the chapel, she called her mom. “This is the school for me,” she told her.
Once on campus De Leon got involved in Presente, one of the Latinx American clubs on campus. Presente hosts weekly meetings for the Latinx community and a variety of events for the broader St. Olaf community.
This year the group hosted a salsa-making competition with help of the Environmental Honor House and used vegetables from St. Olaf Garden Research and Organic Works (STOGROW), the student-run farm on campus. The group hosted a panel discussing the different terms used for Latin American people in the U.S. And the group also hosts a plethora of events during Hispanic Heritage Month, including chapel talks, dances, and spoken word events. De Leon serves as president of the group.
“While some suggest organizations as a way boost your resumé, I do it for myself, apart from my schoolwork,” De Leon says. “It is through Presente that I found my place at St. Olaf.”
De Leon has also found her place at St. Olaf through the support of encouraging professors. While her parents went through the process of filing the paperwork necessary to remain in the United States, for example, a Spanish faculty member offered support. “Besides being my professor, she was there for me to trust and talk about my feelings with,” says De Leon.
Over the summer of 2015, Leon did an internship with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) in San Antonio, Texas. She worked as a translator, telling the stories of refugees to lawyers.
One of the most meaningful experiences she had at this internship was translating the story of a woman who not only lost her husband to gangs, but also had her son’s life threatened. De Leon struggled to find a way to interpret the story to the lawyer and realized the value of a person who can both speak Spanish and fight for the rights of these people legally.
De Leon has seen the value of the liberal arts education at St. Olaf, with majors in both Spanish and psychology as well as a concentration in education. With a wide array of interests, De Leon was able to explore academic disciplines ranging from dance to religion.
“I appreciate the fact that I get to take classes in different departments,” says De Leon.
This semester, she is broadening her horizons even further by studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain.
“I hope to grow as an individual by experiencing a different culture and applying my academics in a different setting,” says De Leon.