By Lynn Colburn
At 24 years old, not many have accomplished all Ana Karen Flores-Trujillo has been able to accomplish in her young life. Most of what you read comes directly from her because she said it better than anyone else can.
Flores-Trujillo is a graduate of Beardstown High School, where she was not only a part of the Cross Country and Track team but was also the president of Student Council her senior year, a member of National Honors Society, Art Club, and Key Club. To round out her accomplishments, she was both homecoming queen and valedictorian in her senior year.
After high school, Flores-Trujillo attended Illinois College, where she majored in International Studies and Spanish with a minor in Gender and Women’s Studies. She was also a part of the Division III Cross Country and Track team, where she was named most valuable athlete three years in a row and in her junior year qualified as an All-Conference runner.
“I have so many incredible memories at Illinois College as a student, it is difficult to just name one,” says Flores-Trujillo. However, there were two that were the most impactful. “The first was being a part of a team that became my family. Most of my memories at IC are with my cross-country teammates, Coach Brooks and Coach Peggy. These were the people I could lean on and always supported me whether it was on a race, academically or pushing me to follow my dreams.”
“The second most impactful aspect of IC was studying abroad in Alicante, Spain, the spring semester of my junior year. This would be my first time being outside of the country, other than Mexico, and I was ecstatic. Studying in Alicante gave me an experience outside of the text book. In many ways this was a growing experience. I met some incredible people whom I traveled with. I also learned to travel on my own, backpacking through France. I had always been a curious person, but this fed my ambition and current passion for traveling.”
“There are many courses that provided incredible learning experiences, such as Leadership in Democracy taught by Karen Dean, Women and Gender Studies with Lisa Udel, International Studies with Winston Wells and my Spanish capstone with Steven Gardner. However, I will say that perhaps it wasn’t so much the topic, which are all areas I really enjoy learning about and became my focus, but the passion that these professors evoked in every class. These four individuals became my mentors and helped grow different parts that have made me, exactly what IC strives for each student, a well-rounded citizen of the world. They challenged me even in times when I was unsure of my own strengths.”
After IC, Flores-Trujillo attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, for her Master of Arts in Political Science with a graduate certificate in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies.
“During graduate school, I also made it a point to travel abroad once more. I attended the United Nations Mandated University of Peace in Costa Rica, where I focused on Gender and Peace Building. This, I must say, was the highlight of graduate school. I attended an institution that had true global citizens, individuals from every part of the world, working towards peace and making this a better place for everyone.”
When asked how others might describe her, she said, “Hardworking. Self-motivated. Determined. Compassionate.” Liliana Costa, a local woman who advocates for the Jacksonville area Latino community agrees, “I met Ana when she was very young. She is an extremely talented and determined person. She demonstrates what Hispanic kids can do. She has a love of the U.S. and is willing to be a positive influence on other young people. Through her many experiences she continues to open paths for other young people and has been helping the Latino youth at Illinois College through its Nuestra Casa organization.” This group helps to enhance the quality of life and education for Hispanic/Latino students at Illinois College while also promoting diversity and inclusion on campus.
Today, Flores-Trujillo is back in central Illinois because she was offered “an opportunity I could not turn down, working with one of my mentors, Karen Dean, as an intern for the Leadership Program at Illinois College,” she says.
“One of our biggest projects this semester was focused on educating the campus and the Leadership class on the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Often times we get too wrapped up in our lives to look at what is happening in other parts of the world, and we wanted to shed light on this atrocity. We had the honor of bringing in United Nation’s Chief Spokesperson and Head of Communications on refugees, Melissa Fleming, to campus to educate us through her newly released book: A Hope More Powerful than the Sea.”
“I enjoy working with students because I was in their shoes just a few years ago. Sometimes I still feel like one, and I think that helps me relay their views and needs to the rest of the college. I think the one trait that has helped me with students and with meeting people is being personable. I enjoy finding commonalities, and most of all I love hearing what passions other have. How can you and I work to make your dreams come true? I want to make sure people have the resources they need and moral support to achieve their goals.”
“I think that the one opportunity students should explore and take advantage of is study abroad or, if that is not a possibility, at least a break away. This is an experience beyond words. Overall, the college experience is what you make it. I think all students should look for opportunities outside of the campus doors. The college does a wonderful job of exposing these opportunities to students already.”
Flores-Trujillo will be helping to lead a group of I.C. students in an Alternative Spring Break trip to Puerto Rico on March 2-10. This service-focused program is a once in a lifetime opportunity to help citizens in need after the hurricane disasters which left so many without power and in need of hope, and help students immerse themselves in the Latin American culture.
“To someone who is starting in my field, I would say don’t be discouraged by everything that is happening in the world. Realize that you can make a difference. Keep following your dreams. Never stop learning and become the global citizen you are meant to be.”
“My future plans are to work for non-profits, such as CARE International, EMILY’s List, Human Rights Watch, or Amnesty International, and work my way up to become a gender specialist for United Nations Women. I think that the quality that best describes me is driven.”
“One thing I would like to mention that was not brought up in the interview questions is that I am a DREAMer. This is a title given to students who are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This means that I am an undocumented immigrant who was brought to this country as a child. Although I feel that I am American in very sense of the word, I may face deportation within the next year due to DACA protection being rescinded. This title is significant because it is such a big part of my identity as I am sure is true of other DREAMers. I would like to say to them, that anything is possible, to never let go of your passions, as I have not. At this time, there is no path to citizenship for me and more than 700,000 other DREAMers; our future lies in the hands of Congress.”
“I would like to thank a handful of people for guiding me and being role models in my life: my aunt Loraine Brasel, Karen Dean, Liliana Costa, Barbara Zellman and my parents.”