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Esmeralda Diera

Esmeralda Diera selected for Transforming Lives Award

A former farmworker and first-generation college student, Esmeralda Diera is pursuing her dream of becoming a dental hygienist thanks to the support she found at Yakima Valley College’s Grandview Campus.

This past winter, Diera was recognized as YVC’s nominee for Washington state’s Transforming Lives Award. Each year, the Washington State Association of College Trustees (ACT) Awards Committee recognizes the accomplishments of nominees from each of the state’s community and technical colleges for this award.

Diera is now on track to earn a bachelor’s degree and help give back to the Yakima Valley community but her path to success wasn’t easy.

“I can recall the heartache in my mother’s voice as she said, ‘you should be picking up a book to study, not a shovel to dig weeds’.”  — Esmeralda Diera

Working minimum wage agricultural jobs was the only option for Diera’s parents after they immigrated to the U.S. with little education and looking to give their children a better life. Growing up, Diera never believed that a college education would be possible given her background, and after high school began working full-time in agriculture.

“While others were enjoying summer vacations and joining their friends at the swimming pools, I was joining my parents in picking crops,” recounts Diera.

As many of her high school classmates began their new experiences in college, Diera was gearing up with gloves, boots and picking up a shovel. Whether it was the scorching heat of summer or frigid winter air, Diera would be at work in a tough agricultural job.

“I can recall the heartache in my mother’s voice as she said, ‘you should be picking up a book to study, not a shovel to dig weeds’,” Diera recalled.

It was that moment when Diera realized she wanted more for her life and took the first steps toward earning a college degree. While starting college initially felt scary and overwhelming, Diera found support from YVC instructors who cared about her success.

“Those feelings — anxiety and reluctance — vanished quickly when I walked into Grandview’s YVC Campus for my advising meeting and was joyfully greeted by the first person who helped me get my education back on track, [Instructor] Stephen Kenny. Not only did he help me get set up for my first quarter of college courses, but he also put me on the right track for the dental hygiene program,” said Diera.

Diera noted her gratitude for faculty and staff members such as Kenny who made her feel welcome as she stepped into a new environment.

“Throughout my years at YVC, I always had [instructors] who were more than willing to give me the help and feedback I needed in order to improve myself as a student,” she said.

In June 2022 Diera earned her associate in arts degree and finished her prerequisite courses to pursue YVC’s bachelor of applied science in dental hygiene program. After completing the dental hygiene program, Diera hopes to work and give back to the Yakima Valley community.

“When I began college as a first-generation student, I lacked role models who understood what I was going through. I hope to be an example for others who may be in the same position and feel like they may not have the opportunity to seek a higher education,” she said.

Each Transforming Lives awardee receives a $500 scholarship from ACT while all nominees receive a $250 award. In addition, every recipient has his or her story and picture included in an awards booklet that is shared with legislators, the higher education community, and posted on the ACT website.