From the Lab to the Library
My name is Marlú Abarca (she/ella, they/elle). I studied Psychology and Spanish with a concentration in language development/acquisition at Grinnell College. During my time in undergrad, I had so much fun exploring the different branches of Psychology, my favorite being Neuroscience. I still remember the rat I used during my research (we were told not to name them because we would get too attached, but I was a rebel and did it anyway!); I named the rat Amyg Dála, a nod to Padimé Amidala from the Star Wars Franchise, and my favorite brain part...the amygdala!
When I reminisce about that time at Grinnell, I remember it as an exciting moment in my life because I was exposed to research tools, methodologies, and world-class professors that my first-generation college student brain would never have imagined was possible to access; I spent my entire week looking forward to the next time that I could step foot in the lab because it meant that--for a moment--I was able to live my mother’s dream of her daughter having the freedom to pursue her interests--as male-dominated as they were! Unfortunately though, because I spent so much time in the lab, and interacted with classmates that aspired to move on to research career fields, I felt a lot of pressure to pursue similar career paths...what I wish I knew...was that I could take my love of psychology and neuroscience, and apply it to a field that not only matched my personality much better than working in a laboratory all day (kudos to our hard-working researchers!!), but that also saw short-term and long-term results in my community.
Before settling in Des Moines, IA, I was born and raised in northern Los Angeles, CA. I grew up knowing that someday I would be going to college. I knew this because I had family and adults all around me telling me that I was smart, encouraging my curiosity, and satiating it through books and educational television. What I didn’t know was that although I was diagnosed with dyslexia--a developmental learning disorder--at the age of 7, I would go on to love reading and becoming smarter. It is commonly understood now, that during the early stages in their development, children are learning to read, but later they read to learn.
So, when I was considering what to do with my Psych degree and background in Spanish after college, I was inspired to help other low-income, first-generation, students of color also enroll in and graduate from college. As I dove deeper during my first year in Des Moines, I found studies that demonstrate that variables such as your reading level at the age of 8 is a greater predictor for college success than your SAT scores. This finding made me interested in pursuing early education, and I was fortunate enough to find a contract position with the Des Moines Public Library as a Bilingual Storytime coordinator. A year later, the library would decide that the community’s need for expanded bilingual programs and services was greater than ever, so I applied and was hired for their first ever full-time Bilingual Services Library Assistant position.
For the last five years, I’ve been using my background in child development, language acquisition, and bilingualism to support and empower children through literacy, and prepare and remind them that they are the next generation of college graduates! I wish that when I was an undergrad, someone had told me that there is no cookie-cutter way to approach job searching or a career path in your STEM field; if you look hard enough, you can find opportunities that allow you to pursue your passions while making a lasting impact. Don’t give up!
Connect with Marlú Abarca on LinkedIn by following the link below!
Edited by Rachel Alvarado