Volunteering and community involvement – coupled with his studies in political science and psychology – transformed Jose Molina ’17 from a reserved boy into a confident young man.
Now Molina is putting all of his mentoring, leadership, language and social science skills into practice as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guapiles, Costa Rica.
He says it’s an amazing opportunity to combine his experience and education while helping others – and learning about another culture.
“This was just the right thing at the right time: I get to experience my love of traveling and my love of volunteering and working with youth,” he says. “UMass Lowell helped show me what I could bring to the Peace Corps in Costa Rica, why I should apply, and how I could make a difference in a youth’s life.”
Molina was born in Puerto Rico to Dominican parents, the youngest of 10 children. His family came to the United States when he was a toddler – and then moved more than a dozen times. By the time they settled in Lowell, when Molina was 14, he’d pretty much given up on trying to make friends because “it was exhausting.”
At Lowell High School, he was encouraged to prepare for college and to join the Latino Connections Club. He also joined the cross-country and track teams. But volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Lowell was what truly brought him out of his shell.
Mentoring younger children helped Molina feel accepted and valued. His last two years of high school, even though he worked at McDonald’s to help support his family, he spent every spare hour at the club, where the staff helped him apply to UMass Lowell and named him Youth of the Year in 2013.
In college, his classes – especially in political psychology and race and diversity issues – gave him new insights, skills and confidence.
Molina joined intramural sports teams and rose to vice president of the Latin American Students Association. He worked as a diversity peer educator and a resident advisor, helping to start the Advocates of Tomorrow living-learning community for students passionate about social justice. At graduation, he won the Chancellor’s Medal for Diversity and Inclusion.
“The main change that I see in myself after graduating from UMass Lowell is confidence. When I started, I thought the other students were at such a higher level, so I didn’t talk much,” he says. “Junior year, based on what I was learning and lots of opportunities for discussion in small classes, I felt a shift. I thought, ‘I know what we’re talking about. I can add my two cents’ worth.'"
In Guapiles, Molina’s fluent Spanish has proved an asset. He has already done a community needs assessment and has decided to target the school dropout rate. He’s working with high school students to mentor younger children, and he’s starting an afterschool club where they can socialize, play and talk about emotional and physical health.
In the meantime, he’s meeting more young people by showing up at the soccer field and shooting hoops on a basketball court next to the town hall.
“Basketball and soccer are sports I have limited skills in, but I’ve been practicing a lot. The kids think I’m really good at basketball, just because I’m so much bigger than them,” he laughs.