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MOM Series: A Steady Approach to Career Happiness

Iris Barraza

Sometimes slow and steady really is the best approach when looking for an occupation. As the subject of the latest entry in our MOM Series, Iris Barraza demonstrates that taking the time to learn about your career interests is often the best decision for a young professional.

Barraza did not have a typical high school experience. During her junior year, she gave birth to her first child (Xitlali, 2008). Despite becoming a mother, she was able to graduate with honors from Kalamazoo Central High School in 2009. Using The Kalamazoo Promise (The Promise), she enrolled at Western Michigan University (WMU), but faced challenges in this new environment.

“I was not prepared for the college experience quite yet,” Barraza said reflecting on her early days at WMU. “I was the first person in my family to actually go to college and I did not have the guidance that a lot of freshmen had.”

Chalking her first year in college up as a learning experience, Barraza decided to leave WMU and enter the workforce. Having worked throughout high school, she felt confident in her decision to start a career.

“In 2011, I took a job as a receptionist at WSI and grew a lot from it,” she explained. “Eventually, I learned more about human resources and became a staffing specialist.”

After three years at WSI, Barraza gave birth to her second child (Xavier, 2013) and decided to leave her job and go back to school to pursue her degree in Human Resources. While attending Kalamazoo Valley Community College full-time, she worked a part-time job as a Leasing Specialist at Beztak, later bought out by MGM Property Management, LLC. In the middle of this, she gave birth to her third child (Ximena, 2015).

In 2016, she earned her Associates Degree and reenrolled at WMU. A year later, she earned her Bachelor of Business Administration in Human Resources and graduated cum laude in December 2017.

“I used The Promise for the entire process,” she said regarding her return to college. “If it were not for The Promise, I would not be where I am today. I do have one loan to pay off, but it could have been a lot worse.”

She was also awarded the Women’s Coalition Scholarship for working moms by the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. Using her degree and the work experience she had gained, Barraza joined the Talent Acquisition Team at the Kellogg Company in March of 2018. Now a mother of four (Xander, 2020), working in a career she loves, Barraza wants her children to learn from her experiences.

“One thing I hope that my kids take away is to not have children while they are still in school,“ she shared. “Now that I know so much more, I can help guide them on their journeys and be there whenever they need my advice.”

In addition to the advice given to her own children, Barraza also has some recommendations for current Promise Scholars.

“Try to find a mentor,” she advised. “If you know someone who went to college, talk to them. I did not have anyone to talk to my first time around and it was difficult. I would also suggest starting at a community college to hone your learning style and study habits.”

We admire the perseverance you demonstrated in finding a career fit that was right for you, Iris. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us!

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