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A Conversation with Graduating Seniors

Written by Sofia Godoy. Edited for clarity.
Lindley Andrews and Anthony Ciano are both seniors graduating this May from UNC with a Latin American Studies Major (LTAM). During their senior year they worked on a capstone project examining the intersection of Latino identity and health outcomes in North Carolina. Reflecting on their academic path, they articulate the significance of their choice to pursue the LTAM major, look back at highlights throughout their collegiate experience, and discuss their plans once they graduate.

Why did you decide to enroll at UNC, and how has your experience here been in retrospect?

Lindley Andrew: I feel like my experience is a little more traditional, I am from North Carolina, about 35 minutes from here. Carolina was always kind of on my mind as a potential option, but I wasn't sold on Carolina. Then I got a scholarship to come here, and that pretty much sealed the deal. My first year was fully online because that was the 2020 - 2021 school year. That was just kind of a rough patch, but I will confidently say that every year since then has gotten better. I feel super confident that this is where I was supposed to end up.

Anthony Ciano: I attended another four-year university before transferring to UNC. I went there for two years, and at the time, I was a biology major with a minor in Spanish. I'm pre-med, so I knew I wanted to go into medicine, and I just didn't feel like this other university had the same sort of resources and opportunities available for me to achieve the things that I wanted to do. Once I got into UNC, I knew that if I chose any other school, I would probably regret it. So, I enrolled in Carolina, and it's really been fantastic. I added my second major in Latin American Studies.

What initially drew you to the LTAM major?

LA: I was part of a dual language immersion program growing up. Half of my school day was in English, and half was in Spanish. Coming to college, I always thought that I wanted to keep studying Spanish in some capacity. I don't think I fully realized how interested I was in Latin America as a place, but also, the various cultures and languages until I was here. I took a Latin American politics class freshman year that I really liked. My junior year, first semester, I was in the History of Cuba class with Louis A. Pérez, who is one of the Latin Americanist in the History department. I went to see him during office hours and told him I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep my Spanish major. He told me he was the chair of the Latin American Studies major, which I didn’t know at the time. I asked him to tell me some more about the major. After that conversation and some more research at home, I decided that that was what I wanted to do. I switched from the Hispanic Linguistics major to Latin American Studies, and then I kept Spanish as a minor. I also have American studies as a second major. Most people don't settle on a major their junior year. I've really loved this department and its closeness and the support I feel.

AC: I've always wanted to go into medicine since starting college, so studying biology just seemed like a natural choice to make. After I applied to transfer to UNC, I studied abroad in Cuba for two weeks and I really enjoyed that experience. My family speaks Spanish, but my Spanish wasn't perfect. Then, going to Cuba, my Spanish got so much better and I began to realize that studying the language was not enough for me because if my language skills could get that much better in two weeks, why should I devote two more years specifically to studying it when instead I could learn more about the cultures, perspectives, politics, and history of Latin America, which was vastly more interesting to me? And in the Latin American Studies major, you can still take Spanish classes anyway, so you still get that language exposure. And some of my classes have been in Spanish, and I have so many Spanish-speaking friends and we're always doing things in Spanish. It really was such an easy decision for me, to take that path.

Who has been your favorite professor? How about favorite class?

LA: I am going to say three classes, which I know is a lot, but then I'll narrow down. My capstone class was with Professor Gabriela Valdivia. I really liked that class because I felt very supported by Professor Valdivia and the department more broadly. I also think working with Anthony was a pleasure, and I really enjoyed writing the capstone together. I think it really boosted my confidence in my research skills and helped me feel a little bit better about the possibility of grad school in the future. Another class was Heritage and Migration with Professor Hannah Gill. The class studies the historical patterns and trends of migration from Latin America to North Carolina, which is something that I have always been really interested in. That had an impact on my growth and on life, growing up in my hometown with a lot of Latin American migrants, so I was able to really connect to that class and tie in things from home. Everyone in there was really devoted and excited. It was an oral history class too, so we got to interview people. I interviewed a couple of people from my hometown and that was a really cool practical hands-on experience. And we got to be a part of the New Roots Initiative, which was so much bigger than just our class. Then probably my favorite class of all, if you ask any of my friends, I can talk about it for hours and hours, the History of Cuba with Professor Louis A. Pérez. Also, the second part of the class is on the Cuban Revolution, and I recommend this class to everyone. I think if you're interested in history at all you have to take the History of Cuba. The way Professor Pérez lectures is like a story and his passion is infectious, so I left the class every day just ready to learn more. Also, he's one of the smartest professors I know, just wise and knowledgeable and the way he has committed his life to research in Cuba is very inspiring to me. He’s a great professor, and I could sing his praises, I do sing his praises, but all three of those classes were absolutely amazing and I loved them.

AC: So funny enough, I took all of those classes with Lindley as well, so I definitely have first-hand experiences in those courses. I think this is a really challenging question for me because I've never taken a class in this department that I didn't like. I have liked every single class I've taken in Latin American Studies. But I think starting off, I took LTAM 101, or Intro to Latin American Studies, my first semester here and that provided a really, important foundation for me for my career and academic growth within Latin America generally. It contextualized a lot of the issues and topics that we discussed in greater depth within the classes I took after LTAM 101. So, I think just starting off, I highly recommend that class, it gives you a really good broad foundation in Latin America. Again, I really love the capstone, and I did my honors thesis on Cuba, so Dr. Perez's class was obviously great as well.

What project are you proudest of having completed while at UNC?

LA: I am very proud of our capstone. Since I didn’t do an honors thesis, the capstone was kind of my senior year culminating big thing. I feel, as I mentioned earlier, it is the type of research that I would hopefully like to do in grad school in the future or a similar kind of research. I really enjoyed it and I’m really proud of it. I think it had a tangible kind of repercussions for the environment that we're in right now, and it felt very close to me, and I was really proud of what it turned out to be.

AC: We should probably mention what our capstone was. We studied the impact of Latinidad, or being Latino, on health and health outcomes in North Carolina, with a particular focus on undocumented migrants to North Carolina. I obviously am very proud of the work that we did for that. It feels super tangible for the career that I want to pursue in the future. However, just given the length and time and effort I spent on my honors thesis; I would say I'm most proud of that. It was 96 pages. Although I'm certainly proud of both, I would say my honors thesis was just a big accomplishment of mine while at UNC. In my honors thesis, I studied the impact of the U.S. embargo on the Cuban public health system.

What are your future plans after you graduate?

AC: Next year I'm going to be working as an EMT full-time and studying for the MCAT, which is the exam you have to take to go to medical school. And then probably do a Master’s and then apply to medical school. I'm really interested in working with Latinos and Spanish-speaking populations, so hopefully, whatever field of medicine I practice in the future I'd love to work with Spanish-speaking people. I hope to use my major for that, and maybe possibly research as well in the future. I did biology research on infectious diseases in the Andean region of South America.

LA: For me, the answer is not quite as straightforward. My passions broadly are youth, education, Latin America, history and access to education. Finding the intersection has been a little bit of a journey for me. Next year, my plan is to find something that fits into those intersections, and then I’ll probably go to grad school in two or three years. I don't know exactly what kind of grad programs I'm looking into, although recently I've been very interested in public history and work within communities telling their own histories. History by the people, for the people kind of thing. Next year I'm looking at quite a few different jobs. Some in education, some in college prep access, and then also, I'm looking at quite a few jobs as museum educators, which is really fascinating. And that's kind of where I want to be is hopefully helping to bridge the gap of museum-goers and making that a more accessible thing, for youth specifically.

Any closing remarks?

LA: I would say, not to be dramatic, but adding the Latin American studies major truly solidified my last two years at Carolina. Before then, I genuinely felt like I did not know my professors. I was just a number in this huge, large institution. Everything felt bureaucratic and disjointed for me. I love my other major and my minor, but finding the Latin American Studies program has made me feel known as a person and as a student. I've been able to connect with professors and staff members that I would not have without this major. I also felt like it was a long time coming when I got here, and I will miss these classes in this program more than anything probably.

AC: Yeah, I absolutely agree. I think for me what was really the most striking is how much effort each professor has put into their work, and they're all so passionate about what they do. Honestly, if I had an issue, I would feel comfortable going to literally any one of my Latin American Studies professors and addressing it and asking them for advice or a letter of recommendation or anything. I do want to say that this is a great supplement if you're majoring in STEM or any other major. It's super, super doable in four years, especially if you want to go into healthcare or law or any field like that and you're picking up a Spanish minor. I really think that you should consider Latin American Studies as well. It gives you just so much perspective.

Photos of Anthony Ciano and Lindley Andrew