El Centro

Northeastern Legacy

The Luna sisters

The Luna sisters have always been encouraged to excel and pursue their educations.

“Our parents always taught us the importance of higher education, even though they only had high school diplomas,” said Maria Luna-Duarte, interim executive director of Northeastern Illinois University’s El Centro location in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood. Maria earned her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Political Science in 2002 and her Master of Arts in Education Leadership:Higher Education in 2005. She now is a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Maria was the family’s trailblazer to Northeastern. Her sister, Claudia Luna, earned her bachelor’s in Spanish and Social Work in 2012, and she will begin pursuing her master’s in Social Work next year. The youngest of the three sisters, Jennifer Luna, is currently pursuing her bachelor’s in Sociology. Maria found Northeastern through her high school guidance counselor.


“She asked me about college, but at the time I was an undocumented student and was not sure I could attend due to my status,” she said. The counselor encouraged her to check out Northeastern and its Proyecto Pa’Lante program, which provides to Latino students a variety of personal and academic support programs and services that enhance learning and ease students’ academic and social transition to college.

Maria began attending Northeastern and soon joined the University Honors Program, served as a student trustee and as leader of the Student Government Association. She also found people who mentored her on her journey.  “Dr. Susan Stall helped me see myself as a scholar and see my passion and talent in Sociology,” Maria said.

“Having a mentor was the difference for me.”

Maria encouraged Claudia and Jennifer to also attend Northeastern because of its affordability, faculty commitment and its educational impact. "This university changed my life,” Maria said. “So, because of my own education and how it changed my life, I wanted to change lives as well. I value working here at Northeastern because I have the ability to transform the lives of students. That’s what keeps me going.”