Student Veteran Seeks to Give Back to Neighborhood
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
||Media Contact: Beth Campus|
|May 13, 2013
CHICAGO – A strong sense of duty and responsibility has been the guiding force in the life of Josue Contreras, Northeastern Illinois University’s May 2013 student commencement speaker. Contreras, a veteran of the United States Army and resident of the Albany Park neighborhood in Chicago, graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in bilingual/bicultural elementary education.
Contreras’ grandparents arrived in Chicago during one of the major waves of Puerto Rican migration. His grandparents returned to Puerto Rico when his father was 12, and Contreras was born there. As the son of an Army man, Contreras spent most of his childhood moving. But when his family was in Chicago, Humboldt Park was their home.
“Humboldt Park is my home away from home,” explained Contreras. “Chicago and Puerto Rico were always the two constants in my life.”
At one point, Contreras’ family was living in Germany when his father was called to Bosnia. Not wanting to stay in Germany alone, Contreras and his mother packed up and moved back to Puerto Rico. There, his mother began to study nursing. Struggling to balance her studies with raising a family while her husband was overseas, Contreras’ mother turned to her son for help. Contreras read and recorded his mother’s textbooks in Spanish so that she could listen and study while she worked. During the recordings, Contreras discovered a passion for helping others. He studied to become an emergency medical technician, and, after graduating from high school, combined his parents’ careers to become a nurse in the U.S. Army.
Eight years and two tours later, Contreras’ active duty was complete and he returned home planning to become a physician’s assistant. However, the veteran questioned his career path when he saw a family member locked away in a prison largely filled with minorities. And he witnessed a large number of Chicago Public Schools students being killed in their own neighborhoods.
“After seeing certain events, including my friend killed in combat, I feel I have a responsibility to put myself into a position so this country can continue to move forward and progress,” explained Contreras.
It was at this turning point in his life that Contreras sought a career that would prevent individuals from going to prison and would help students see their potential in life. He decided to become an educator, specifically a bilingual educator who could serve in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. With this type of educational background, Contreras knew he could return to the Humboldt Park neighborhood and show students they could be successful.
“My heart is with youth, returning to my neighborhood and ensuring others have the same opportunities I’ve had,” said Contreras.
He began with taking courses at Harry S. Truman College, but soon transferred to Northeastern. Contreras chose Northeastern, he said, because it housed the only bilingual/bicultural program in Illinois. Contreras approached Northeastern with the same feelings of duty and responsibility he brought to all areas of his life, and became an exceptional student. Now, with his college degree, Contreras hopes to one day become principal of a Humboldt Park public school.
“I want to work at a school that already has the bilingual program in place and then I can take that knowledge and expertise to the Humboldt Park neighborhood,” explained Contreras.
Contreras will address his fellow graduates at Northeastern’s Commencement ceremony with the goal of everyone leaving with a sense of possibility and of responsibility to their country.
About Northeastern Illinois University
Northeastern Illinois University is a fully accredited public university serving more than 11,000 full and part-time undergraduate and graduate students in the Chicago metropolitan area. NEIU engages its diverse campus community in a rich environment of learning, teaching and scholarship. The University offers more than 80 academic programs in the arts, sciences, education and business. Newsweek magazine has named Northeastern Illinois University the sixth best investment among all universities in the nation and number one in Illinois. The University also is recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the most diverse universities in the United States and is federally designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution.
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