Cherishing memories with his family, a young boy enjoys his last home-cooked meal in Venezuela before embarking on a new journey to Delaware State University. Having had the opportunity to attend Delaware State University on a baseball scholarship, Kevin Noriega began a new chapter in his life. Fast forward a few years and Kevin Noriega became the director of the Opportunity Scholars program, worked as a residence director, admissions counselor and academic advisor. A positive light for the Delaware State community.
Q: Tell me about yourself Mr. Noriega. Who are you and what was your background like before Delaware State University?
A: I’m Kevin Noriega from Venezuela. I came to the United States when I was 19, had a student visa, and had the opportunity to get a full baseball scholarship. My goal has always been to get drafted for a pro baseball team, even though that didn’t happen. So I finished my education (BA in marketing) here in the state of Delaware; then I finished my master’s degree (business administration). I then became a full-time admissions counselor, then an educational counselor. My parents are in Panama and I still have family in Venezuela. I live here in Delaware and have no plans to go to Venezuela anytime soon – haven’t been in many years, but hope to go when things get better.
Q: Why couldn’t you go to Venezuela?
A passport. The situation is so bad in Venezuela that all processes related to immigration are all blocked. For a passport renewal, Americans pay between $100 and $200 to renew, while I was contacted by this lady and she was charging me $2000 just to renew my passport for one year. The process has therefore been extremely linked to the black market. You have to know people, well I’m waiting for my green card.
Q: Was it difficult to receive your green card due to the ongoing effects happening in America today with DACA?
A: I think that’s the usual expectation. So I got my first conditional green card because I married my wife who is American. So when you first apply for a green card, they give you a condition to make sure your marriage is legitimate. So of course we went through the three years and then I had to submit another unconditional green card application. So I have to wait another year. I’m basically stuck in the states.
Q: Coming to DSU you mentioned you were on a scholarship, how did you feel about leaving your home and starting a new life in America?
A: So I left when I was 19, I had already finished high school in Venezuela. And me being Latino, we are very particular about spending time with family. Like birthdays and Christmas, we are very family oriented. It was difficult at first, but I knew I had to leave the country because I knew the country was not on the right track. And rightly so, now it’s really falling apart. In all aspects, social, economic, political, in terms of government, everything is collapsing. So my father encouraged me to get a scholarship and go to the United States. And so, it was hard the first few years. Many nights of crying and missing my parents/friends. I had to learn English when I was 17, so I struggled the first two years at DSU. I was very calm and myself. It wasn’t until my freshman year that I flipped a switch in my head. I said “Kevin this is your life now, you’re not going back to Venezuela, there’s no future there.” And that’s where I started to blossom as a person and started to find my personality. I started to feel more comfortable interacting with other people. But before the switch flipped, if it wasn’t with my baseball teammates, I wasn’t hanging out with people. One thing that helped me was that my roommate was Puerto Rican and my shortstop teammate was Venezuelan. Having them around helped me stay more connected with my culture.
Q: What inspired you to become an academic advisor and other essential roles on campus?
A: My goal was to become CEO of a company. I’ve always dreamed of that, of wearing costumes and working with people. But I think life has a funny way of letting you know that sometimes what we want in life isn’t yours or your purpose. And so I was able to network with important people in my life. They saw my work ethic, my dedication, my drive and they gave me opportunities here at the University. I kind of just stumbled into higher education. To the point that I’ve been a higher education professional for over 10 years and couldn’t see myself doing anything else that had to do with helping others. Whether it’s immigrants, Latinos, other people, it has made me discover that helping others is my purpose in life. So I don’t see myself working as a CEO anymore. And of course, by working at the University, your students are in a way your customers; even though I don’t see it that way, I see it as helping other people achieve their dreams and goals. But as I said before, I don’t want to do anything else that doesn’t help others. I don’t want to be part of “I just make more money” it’s more like “did I have a good impact in Consuelo’s life” so that’s what really fills my life .
Q: How did you end up becoming the director of Opportunity Scholars?
A: The Dream.US has partnered with Delaware State University who have decided to host the Dreamers from Locked Out States. Well most of the Dreamers were Latinos. So in 2016 we didn’t have a lot of Latino staff, especially those who worked with student services. So I also stumbled into becoming the adviser and director of The Dreamers. I accepted because you bring me closer to my culture, I can speak a little more Spanish and I found the idea of helping other immigrants very enriching and special in my heart. Hence why I go so hard for you, because I see myself when I got to college. And that’s how I started. The goal has not changed, it has always been to create support systems for you. Not just academically, but professionally, professionally, mentally, financially. I know you have a full ride, but sometimes you don’t have that $300 for the books, so I made it my goal to fill in those holes you’ve got to come so far. I want parents to know that their sons/daughters will be taken care of – bringing that peace.
Q: Earlier this semester, the Dreamers expressed their opinion on how the University did not integrate them and some felt that they were only used for “photo-ops”. What is your opinion on this?
A: Me personally, I don’t consider you as investments or photo shoots. I see you as a strong group of students who have taken the University to the next level. You had a 3.3, 3.4 GPA for years. You have the best GPA, considering other public and private institutions. Even though I have responsibilities as a director, I see myself as you do. So when I do things, I wonder for you guys…” Kev when you came here in 2007 when there were hardly any resources for Latinos, what would you like to have in those tuff times .” Then my mind begins to move and I wonder what I can offer them, so that they don’t have to go through what I went through. I think the University is heavy on you, and in terms of marketing, because in all honesty, you are among the best, in terms of academics. We are one of the few universities to accept Dreamers. Again, I don’t see you as a number or anything, don’t get me wrong. If you think of universities, they are a business, so with any business, or any good thing you have going on, what would you do? Promote it, right? Whatever good you have that can make your business successful, you will strive for. To be honest, all I can do is thanks to the administration and what they have allowed me to do. “Kev, whatever you need for the Dreamers, we’ll make it happen.” Even if it takes a year or two, they provide what I need for you. If I need a car to take the Dreamers to perform, here’s the car. If I need a place to hold social events, this is it.
Mr. Noriega ends with this:
“I guess I don’t think the University as a whole sees you as a photo op. Have we had our challenges? Absolutely. But one thing I preached to the first group of Dreamers is that we are family. So we have to treat ourselves as such. I know we have our differences, just like a family, sometimes me and my dad talk about it, but at the end of the day, we know we are a family. No relationship will be perfect. Most of the time, there are more positives than negatives. But as human beings, it’s our fault to focus on the negatives rather than the positives. I do it all the time. And we hammer out the negatives, and we sometimes celebrate the negatives.
It was a privilege to interview Mr. Noriega and hear his story. From not knowing what the future held to finally realizing his dreams, Mr. Noriega has been a role model to many. Once a baseball player at Delaware State University, and now a leader in our community.