School is hard. Working while going to school is harder. Working while going to school and raising a family is arguably the hardest of all three scenarios. UW Tacoma Program Support Supervisor Kristi Soriano-Noceda understands the challenges of being a parent, student and an employee. At 16 years old, Soriano-Noceda got pregnant. Not long after, she was labeled “at risk.” Finishing high school seemed like a long shot, let alone going to college.
Soriano-Noceda ended up at ACES High School, an alternative high school in Everett. There she received critical guidance and support that enabled her to complete her K-12 education. “I remember this woman named Sharon Brown, she pulled me into the office and told me ‘you’re going to apply for all of these and I’m going to show you how,’” said Soriano-Noceda. Brown told Soriano-Noceda she was filling out paperwork she needed to graduate. In reality, she was submitting scholarship applications.
Soriano-Noceda received multiple grants and scholarships. The first-generation student enrolled in community college but felt out of place. “I didn’t have the necessary tools to succeed even in a community college setting,” she said. At 18 years old, Soriano-Noceda also faced questions about how she was going to care for her young daughter. “People were asking me who was going to watch her and how was I going to support her,” said Soriano-Noceda. “I didn’t have answers.”
After a series of long discussions, Soriano-Noceda’s husband decided to join the military. The family spent most of the next decade bouncing around from place to place including Germany and South Korea. Soriano-Noceda’s husband eventually got orders for Joint Base Lewis-McChord. “It took me eight years just to get my undergraduate degree because there was more to it than just going to school,” said Soriano-Noceda. “There were times when I brought my daughter to both school and work because there wasn’t another option.”
Soriano-Noceda completed her bachelors in political science at Pacific Lutheran University. A few years later she earned a masters of education at UW in Bothell. Soriano-Noceda had experience as an academic advisor and wanted to carry over that knowledge to the world of student affairs. Her postgraduate school life found her in different positions at all three UW campuses. The decision to work in Seattle, Bothell and now Tacoma was intentional. “I wanted to educate myself and learn more about the different pieces of diversity including identity, multiculturalism, religion and accessibility,” she said.
In her role as program support supervisor Soriano-Noceda oversees UW Tacoma’s Childcare and Family Support Services (CFSS). The program helps student-parents navigate college life in a number of different ways. The Childcare Assistance Program offers qualified students $400 to $600 per quarter to pay for licensed childcare. Students must apply to receive aid. The program is funded primarily by student activities fees and funds are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
CFSS also works with the Student Activities Board to ensure there are family-friendly events on campus. The lactation stations on campus are operated by CFSS. Over the summer Soriano-Noceda worked with the registered student organization Huskies and Pups to overhaul the existing station in Garretson Woodruff & Pratt and create a new facility in the Mattress Factory. “We worked with Nursing & Healthcare Leadership to create a more inviting and welcoming space,” said Soriano-Noceda. “Everything we’re doing right now is very intentional because we want to provide that support to our student parents.”
Huskies and Pups
Shelly Orr never considered herself “college material.” An experience in elementary school shaped the way she thought about herself academically. “When I was in sixth grade I had a second-grade reading level,” she said. “I was teased a lot and even when I started doing better I didn’t feel I was where I should be.”
Despite this initial misgiving, Orr is thriving at UW Tacoma. The Army veteran is a senior and will graduate in June with a degree in psychology. Orr plans to continue her education and get a Ph.D. with the goal of working in the field of school psychology. “I want to be an advocate for parents, students and teachers,” she said. “Children have historically been ignored, especially if they need help.”
Orr is putting her skills to use on campus. She is the president of Huskies and Pups. The mother of four (the youngest is 9 months old) wants to draw attention to the struggles and successes of student parents. “We’re here to inform students of policies that are child friendly and to represent this population which often goes unnoticed,” she said.
Besides raising awareness, Huskies and Pups has two stated goals. The organization wants to create a study area on campus where parents can bring their children. The group is also looking to create a resource center similar to The Pantry. The center would provide items like clothing or diapers to student parents.
Krystle Lynne Costa is the marketing and public relations officer for Huskies and Pups. She’s helping spearhead the effort to start a resource center. “When you only have twenty dollars left in your pocket you have to choose between competing priorities,” she said. “We want to help bridge that gap by providing something like a gas card that would make it so you could come to school and care for your child,” she said.
Costa is a senior double majoring in social welfare and criminal justice. This past spring she had to take time away from school due to complications with her pregnancy. “Withdrawing made me realize just how important education is to me,” she said. “There was definitely a piece missing.”
Costa originally wanted to pursue psychology but switched to social welfare. “I wanted to be able to meet clients where they are whether it’s at their work, their home or someplace else,” she said. “Social work gives me that flexibility.”
A transplant from Hawaii, Costa grew up in the Kitsap County area. At a young age, her mother was sent to Oklahoma to serve a prison sentence. This experience stuck with Costa and informed her decision to double major in criminal justice. “I want to work with families that have been affected by the criminal justice system,” she said. “Let’s not break the bond between a parent and their child because it’s going to create problems later on.”
Costa is currently doing her practicum through the Washington State Department of Corrections. She’s splitting time between facilities in Shelton and Purdy. Her husband works to help support the family. Costa receives childcare assistance through UW Tacoma. Her daughter attends a daycare facility three days a week. Costa’s sister watches her the other two days. “The support is a blessing and truly helps me complete my degree,” she said.
Seeing the Possible
Kristi Soriano-Noceda’s parents came to the United States from the Philippines at a young age. Neither attended college, her father dropped out of high school. Growing up, Soriano-Noceda’s mother worked two jobs. Her father spent a number of years as a janitor on the night shift at UW in Seattle. “I remember him telling us ‘if you don’t want to do this at night then you have to go to school,’” said Soriano-Noceda.
She may have followed an unconventional path but Soriano-Noceda was nonetheless successful. Now she wants to help others graduate college, including her now 18-year-old daughter who started at Mills College in the fall of 2017. “She knows the struggles, she knows all about digging in the couch cushions for money to buy Top Ramen,” said Soriano-Noceda. “She’s also been around the world of higher education and can speak the language.”
For Shelly Orr and Krystle Lynne Costa, earning a degree is as much for their children as it is for them. “Education is important,” said Costa. “I want her to see that going to college can help you fulfill your dreams.” This sentiment was echoed by Orr. “I want my children to see that no matter what you can succeed as long as you stick with it,” she said. “They need to see that it’s possible.”
Soriano-Noceda, Orr and Costa are not only helping themselves and their families. Through their work at UW Tacoma they’re also helping other student parents realize their potential.
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org