Graduate Proves ‘Education at Any Age Is Always a Win-Win’

Many people’s path to completing a college degree looks different from that of the person sitting next to them. One recent CWU alumna proved that when you’re determined to earn an education, nothing can stop you.

The eldest of six siblings, Rocio Loera was born in Mexico and migrated to the United States with her parents before her first birthday. Several years after living in the States, her family moved to the lower Yakima Valley town of Sunnyside, where she went on to graduate from high school and get accepted to CWU in 1983.

The timing wasn’t right, and Loera left Ellensburg without finishing her degree.

“Life happens, and I left Central during my third year of study,” she said. “I went to work for a nonprofit organization and two years later was hired by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and worked my way up to a supervisor position.”

Rocio Loera

2022 CWU graduate Rocio Loera

After serving in a supervisory role at DSHS for 20 years, Loera knew she wanted to serve her community in a different capacity, but she encountered an educational barrier that she could not overcome without a four-year degree. So, nearly 40 years after starting her educational journey at Central, Loera returned in 2019-20 to complete her degree. She proudly finished what she started last June when she walked in the CWU commencement ceremony.

“I didn’t do this alone,” Loera said. “I had my family’s support, and my loudest cheerleader was my mother. During the difficult times, she would say, ‘you’re the example for your son—sí se puede,’ which is Spanish for ‘yes, you can (do this).’”

Alongside her son, stepfather, and siblings at commencement was Central advisor Alena Yastchenko, who Loera says was instrumental in her success, providing her with the support she needed to finish her degree and achieve her career goals.

“She always made sure I understood what was going on in class since it has been a while since I was a student,” Loera said of Yastchencko, the director of Interdisciplinary Studies. “She was there guiding me through every step of the way, and if I looked confused, she would tell me to call her after class or go in during office hours to help me understand.”

After graduating last spring, Loera was hired as a program and policy manager at the Washington Social and Health Services headquarters. In her current role, she is responsible for ensuring federal and state cash programs policy is accurately and expediently administered. She and her team analyze and assess the service delivery and workload impacts of proposed and new federal regulations, legislation, policies, and procedures.

When Loera looks back at her journey and how she got where she is today, she marvels:

“I was the first in my family to go to college and the last of six siblings to complete my degree. Many times, I’ve encouraged others to return to school to complete their education, always saying it’s never too late to gain knowledge to empower yourself. There was always a voice in my head repeating those words to me. Education at any age is always a win-win; if not for employment purposes, for personal satisfaction and growth.”

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