Cherishing memories with his family, a young boy enjoys his last home cooked meal in Venezuela before embarking on a new journey at Delaware State University. Granted an opportunity to attend Delaware State University on a baseball scholarship, Kevin Noriega began a new chapter in his life. Fast Forward a couple years and Kevin Noriega has become The Director of the Opportunity Scholars Program, worked as a Residence Hall Director, Admissions Counselor, and Academic Advisor. A positive light to the Delaware State’s community.
Q: Tell me about yourself Mr. Noriega. Who you are, and what your background looked like before Delaware State University?
A: I am Kevin Noriega, originally from Venezuela. I came to the states when I was 19, I had a student visa and was granted the opportunity of a full ride baseball scholarship. My goal forever was to get drafted for a professional baseball team, although it did not happen. So I finished my education (BA in Marketing) here at Delaware State; and then finished my Masters (Business Administration). I then became a full time Admissions Counselor, and went on to become an Academic Advisor. My parents are in Panama, and I still have family in Venezuela. I live here in Delaware, and I don’t plan to go to Venezuela anytime soon – I haven’t visited in many years, but I hope to visit when things get better.
Q: Why have you been unable to visit Venezuela?
A: Passport. The situation is so bad in Venezuela, all immigration related processes are all jacked up. For a passport renewal, Americans pay like $100-$200 to renew, while I was contacted by this lady and she was charging me $2,000 just to renew my passport for one year. So the process has been extremely black market-ish. You have to know people, and well I am waiting for my green card.
Q: Has it been difficult to receive your green card due to the ongoing effects that are taking place in America today, with DACA?
A: I think it’s the regular wait. So I had my first green card conditional, because I had married my wife who is American. So when you first apply for a green card they give you a conditional to ensure that your marriage is legit. So of course we went through the three years, and then I had to submit another application for my green card without the condition. So I have to wait another year. I am basically stuck in the states.
Q: Coming to DSU, you mentioned you were on a scholarship, how did you feel about leaving your home and starting a new life in America?
A: So I left when I was 19, I had already graduated high school in Venezuela. And me being Latino, we are very particular about spending time with family. Like birthdays, and Christmas, we are very family oriented. It was rough at the beginning, but I knew I had to leave the country because I knew the country was not going on a good path. And rightfully so, now it’s really falling apart. In every aspect, social, economical, political, in terms of the government, it’s all just falling apart. So my dad encouraged me to get a scholarship and go to the states. And so, it was tough the first few years. A lot of nights crying and missing my parents/friends. I had to learn English when I was 17 years old, so I struggled the first two years at DSU. I was very quiet and to myself. It was not until my junior year when I flipped a switch in my mind. I said “Kevin this is your life now, you are not going back to Venezuela, there isn’t a future there.” And so that’s when I started flourishing as a person and I started to find my personality. I started to feel more comfortable with interacting with other people. But before the switch flipped, if it wasnt with my baseball teammates, I was not hanging out with people. One thing that helped me was that my roommate was Puerto Rican and my shortstop teammate was Venzuelan. Having them around helped me stay more connected with my culture.
Q: What made you take the path to become an Academic Advisor and other essential roles on campus?
A: My goal was to become CEO of a company. I always dreamed of that, and wearing suits, and working with people. But I think life has a funny way to let you know that sometimes what we want in life does not belong to you or is your purpose. And so I was able to network with significant people in my life. They saw my work ethics, my dedication, my drive, and they gave me opportunities here at the University. I kind of just stumbled into higher education. To the point that I have been a higher education professional for more than 10 years and I wouldn’t see myself doing anything else that is related to helping other people. Whether it’s immigrants, Latinos, other people, it allowed me to find out that helping others is my purpose in life. So, I do not see myself working as a CEO anymore. And of course working at the University your students are somewhat your clients; even though I do not view it like that, I view it as I am helping other people achieve their dreams and goals. But like I said before, I do not want to be doing anything else that isn’t helping others. I don’t want to become part of “i’m just making more money” it’s more about “did I make a good impact in Consuelo’s life” so that is what really fulfills my life.
Q: How did you find yourself becoming The Director of the Opportunity Scholars?
A: The Dream.US made a partnership with Delaware State University that decided to welcome Dreamers from locked out states. And well most of the Dreamers were Latinos. So during 2016 we did not have many Latino staff members, especially those working with student services. So I kind of also stumbled upon becoming the advisor and director for The Dreamers. I accepted because you guys make me feel closer to my culture, I can speak Spanish a little more, and I kind of found the idea of helping other immigrants very rewarding and special in my heart. Hence the reason why I go so hard for you guys, because I see myself when I first came to the University. And that is how I first started. The focus has not changed, it has always been to create support systems for you guys. Not just academics, but professionally, career wise, mentally, financially. I know that you guys have a full ride, but sometimes you don’t have those $300 for books, so I made it my goal to fulfill those holes that you guys have from coming so far away. I want the parents to know that their sons/daughters will be taken care of–bringing that peace.
Q: Earlier this semester Dreamers voiced their opinions about how The University has not been integrating them and some felt as if they were only used for ‘photo-ops.’ What is your take on this?
A: Me personally I do not think of you guys as investments or photo-ops. I see you guys as a strong group of students that have taken the University to the next level. You guys have had a 3.3, 3,4 GPA for years. You guys have the best GPA, considering other public and private institutions. Even though I have responsibilities as director, I see myself as you guys. So when I do things I ask myself for you guys…”Kev when you came here in 2007, when there were barely any resources for Latinos, what do you wish you would have in those tuff moments.” So then my mind starts moving and I ask myself what can I offer them, so they do not have to go through what I went through. I think The University goes heavy with you guys, and in terms with marketing you guys, because in all honesty you guys are among the top, in terms of academics. We are one of the few Universities that accept Dreamers. Again, I do not see you guys as a number or anything like that, don’t get me wrong. If you think about Universities, they are a business, so with any business, or any good thing you have going on, what would you do? Promote it right? Anything good you have going on and that can make your business flourish, you would go hard for it. To be honest, all of the things I am able to do, is because of the administration, and what they have allowed me to do. “Kev whatever you need for the Dreamers, we will make it happen.” Even if it takes a year or two, they provide what I need for you guys. If I need a car to take the Dreamers to present, here’s the car. If I need a venue to host social events, here it is.
Mr. Noriega leaves off with this:
“Best believe I do not think The University as a whole sees you as a photo-op. Have we had our challenges? Absolutely. But one thing I preached to the first group of Dreamers, is that we are a family. So we need to treat each other as such. I know we have our differences, just like a family, sometimes me and my dad get into it, but at the end of the day we know we are a family. There is no relationship that will be perfect. Most of the time there are more positive things, rather than negatives. But as human beings it is our default to focus on the negatives rather than the positives. I do it all the time. And we hammer on the negatives, and we sometimes celebrate the negatives.”
It was a privilege to interview Mr. Noriega and hear his story. From not knowing what the future would hold, to finally reaching his dreams, Mr. Noriega has been a role model to many. Once a baseball player at Delaware State University, and now a leader in our community.