Cornell College provided basis of Santiago’s self-discovery

Coming to a small college in Iowa helped Randy Santiago ’18 realize just how Puerto Rican he was. He began to embrace that identity at Cornell by learning Spanish, serving on the Diversity Committee, and joining Union Latinx, where he became president.

“I didn’t know much about my own culture or identify as Latino until I arrived at Cornell,” said Santiago, who grew up in Chicago. “Union Latinx and the Diversity Committee … helped me better understand my place on this campus and what it means to be from a marginalized population. They also aided me in understanding that I could be a leader and that that didn’t entail a specific or particular mold.”

This first-generation college graduate is now heading to Madrid, Spain, as a Fulbright English teaching assistant. He’ll use his English and creative writing major, as well as his new skills in Spanish, to teach high school English and facilitate an English language community book club.

Randy Santiago '18
Randy Santiago ’18

Q: What is your biggest academic accomplishment?

A: Making it to college, honestly. While I’ve been fortunate enough to study abroad in China and Guatemala, work an internship in China, complete a research fellowship at the University of Illinois, and receive a Fulbright for Spain, the one thing I never expected to do was leave my neighborhood in Chicago. Especially not for college; no one ever prepared me for that.

Q: What are your post-Cornell plans?

A: I will teach English to high school students in Madrid for nine months and afterward I will either attend graduate school or work in a marketing department. I’ve always been interested in the selling of something that people don’t know they’re interested in. I hope the skills will somehow transfer to my writing someday.

Q: What Cornell experiences prepared you for this?

A: Honestly, just existing on and off campus, but within Iowa. There aren’t many people who look like me anywhere on campus or off it, so I feel a constant need to prove myself worthy in whatever space I’m occupying. As president of Union Latinx, I’ve also felt the need to convince people that I am capable of leading the Latin Student Union, even though I didn’t know much about my own culture or identify as Latino until I arrived at Cornell.

Q: Who was your Cornell mentor, or what person on campus had the biggest impact on you?

A: Marcela Ochoa-Shivapour is someone I’ve developed a strong relationship with. Immediately after our first class, she offered me reading suggestions and sources for better understanding the Latinx culture. She’s also been helpful in editing my writing, particularly my poetry whenever I send it her way. She’s been an invaluable resource.

Q: How did One Course At A Time impact your education?

A: It allowed me to learn Spanish quicker than most programs could have. I was able to study basic Spanish in a single semester and study abroad for intermediate and advanced Spanish the following year. I now feel confident enough to teach in Spain and interact with the locals.

Q: Why did you choose Cornell?

A: The variety of academic programs and the option to create a major appealed to me.

Q: Favorite study spot?

A: The Thomas Commons, near the windows. I’m a seasoned people watcher.

Q: What have been your most meaningful experiences beyond the classroom?

A: My time abroad in Guatemala and the summer I spent at the University of Illinois both introduced me to people who I’m still in contact with to this day, people who are passionate about what they do and genuinely care about their effect on the world.

Read more on Randy’s story in the summer 2018 Cornell Report magazine