The Lasting Impact of Being a Student Leader

St. John's university student leader
By Toni Critelli

When we think of college life, we often picture classrooms, exams, and textbooks—but for many students, their college experience goes far beyond academics.

Natalia Acevedo, who recently graduated from St. John’s University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in  Public Administration and Public Service, exemplifies how taking on leadership roles as a student can profoundly shape your educational journey and personal growth. Natalia served as a Diversity Peer Leader in the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) during her academic career. Today, she works as a Student Success Center Coordinator at Make the Road, which focuses on building the power of immigrant and working-class communities to achieve dignity and respect.

Natalia walks us through her academic journey and the transformative power of campus involvement. She shares insights into her experiences, the pivotal moments that have shaped her outlook, and the invaluable lessons she has learned.

What inspired you to take on a St. John’s University student leadership role?

During my first year, as I walked through the D’Angelo Center (DAC), I stumbled upon a table run by the Office of Multicultural Affairs.They were discussing social justice work on campus. Although it was only my first semester, the idea of having a lasting impact on the University was exciting. The individuals at the table suggested I wait until the spring to apply, but unfortunately, everything was shut down due to the pandemic. In May 2020, I came across a flyer on OMA’s Instagram and immediately applied.

I knew I wanted to do something to create a more inclusive environment on campus. Working with OMA felt like the best way to do that.

As a Diversity Peer Leader in OMA, you played an essential part in promoting inclusivity on campus. How do you believe your efforts had a lasting impact?

The most significant aspect of my role was to encourage students to think about the consequences of their actions on others. Although this seems like something one learns in elementary school, it is easy to forget in a diverse setting. For instance, asking a person of color, "Where are you from?" may imply that the person is too different from the majority and must be a foreigner. We remind students to empathize and consider the intent of their actions versus the impact they may have. This was the most crucial part of my job.

Can you share an impactful moment during your time at St. John’s?

During the previous summer, I interned at the Office of Equity and Inclusion, collaborating with OMA to bring their summer programming to life. My primary objective was to assist in organizing the First Gen Summit. We aimed to provide a platform for first-generation college students to share their experiences and connect with others while receiving practical tips on navigating college life at St. John’s. As a first-generation college student, working on this project was a perfect opportunity to assist students like me in thriving. On the day of the event, I was immensely proud of the work done by our office in welcoming the participating students. 

How do you envision applying the skills and insights you've gained at St. John’s University to your current role at Make the Road?

Being a part of SEW gave me the opportunity to further my teaching skills and expand my social justice vocabulary. As I work with my students in Make the Road, I remember the lessons of equity and empathy I was taught that I now impart to my students. It has become a real full-circle moment that I can use what I have learned to continue teaching the next generation of leaders.

What advice would you offer current and prospective St. John’s University students seeking meaningful campus involvement experiences to enhance their academic and personal development?

There is no need to be afraid of trying something new and exploring every interest. I found myself participating in many programs simply because I was intrigued. You never know whom you will meet or what connections you may make from the experience. I loved being involved on campus and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Unlock Your Leadership Potential at St. John's University 

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Discover the transformative power of leadership and campus involvement with St. John's University, just as Natalia Acevedo did during her inspiring journey.

Natalia's story exemplifies how taking on leadership roles as a student can profoundly shape your educational journey and personal growth.

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Toni Critelli

Digital Content Creator

Toni Critelli is a full-time staff writer for Johnnie's Blog. Through engaging content, she captures the essence of the institution, its students, faculty, and alums.