Pingree Grove immigrant learns to excel at ECC
Alejandro Molina Hoyos' goal in life is to promote education and give others a chance to have the positive experiences he's had so far.
The 19-year-old just graduated with a 4.0 GPA from Elgin Community College, where he served as the student trustee on the college's board. Next he's headed to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he plans to study math and mechanical engineering.
He also served as chairman of the Illinois Community College Board student advisory committee, and he recently was elected chairman of the student advisory committee of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
His participation in those groups has taken him to Springfield, where he lobbied for more state grants for community college students, and Seattle and Washington, D.C.
"My goal is to have the ability to give someone the same experience I had, have someone really enjoy their time in college and really develop themselves professionally (by) being involved in clubs and organizations that give you skills that aren't taught, the soft skills," said Alejandro, of Pingree Grove. "People complain and say it's not taught, but it's there for you."
Alejandro's success is all the more impressive given the road he's traveled to get here.
He was almost 6 years old when his family moved to the United States from Colombia.
His parents, Carlos Molina and Gloria Hoyos, were geologists who owned an import business in the city of Medellin. Once dubbed "the murder capital of the world," Medellin at the time was undergoing great social and political instability, as was the rest of the South American nation.
His parents decided to leave after his father was held at gunpoint more than once, and his mother was kidnapped for a couple of hours and forced to withdraw money from the bank, Alejandro said.
His father now works in quality control for a factory, while his mother is a receptionist at a hospital.
"They left everything behind, their business and profession, to come here," he said. "(In return), they don't ask for anything. All they say is, 'Do well in school, study and enjoy yourself.'"
Transitioning to an English-speaking country was traumatic, Alejandro said.
"I remember crying a lot because I didn't understand what was going on," he said. "I felt I was dumb, I was stupid."
School, which he once loved, became dreadful, he said.
"My parents had to literally tear me out of the car and throw me in the school and shut the door behind me."
That was a huge change for Alejandro, whose teachers in Colombia called "a positive leader," his mother said.
Within a year, however, Alejandro had caught up with his peers, and by the 4th grade he was an honors student.
"It was so hard, it was so traumatic for all of us, but he put a lot of himself to go back to being a normal kid," Gloria Hoyos said.
Alejandro was a member of National Honors Society at Hampshire High School while playing on the tennis team and in the marching and concert bands.
He works as a student orientation leader at ECC, where he was captain of the tennis team.
Alejandro admits he was shy until his first year in college, when he joined student government. That's also where he met the student trustee who preceded him.
"I saw his take on the issues and all the information he had and all that he did, and I really wanted to take on that role," he said.
Alejandro was the only student trustee candidate in 2013. One of his goals was to encourage more people to run for the post, he said.
He worked with Katie Storey, ECC's student life coordinator, to create a poster to promote the election and set up information sessions so students could ask questions.
The result: Five candidates ran this year, more than ever before.
"He did a great job with publicizing the position and getting people to know about it," said current ECC student trustee Joel Severson, 20, of Elgin.
Out of everything he's accomplished so far, that's what he's most proud of, Alejandro said.
"I hope I showed people it's an effective role and a place where people can come and make some changes at the college," he said.
Storey calls Alejandro one of the most influential students she's met in her nearly 10 years at ECC, in part because he follows through whenever he commits to something.
"A lot of it comes from his eagerness to be in school, his drive and his genuine tenacity," she said. "He really just wants to have a great time and wants to make a relevant impact on the students and his community."
Alejandro says he's been told he should go into politics.
"I love the governance role of our government, but I hate the politics. It's the necessary evil, unfortunately," he said.
"So maybe education will be more of a role for me, being on a college board or president of a university. Having that role would be amazing."
Alejandro was undocumented until he was able to apply for the deferred action program implemented by the Obama administration about two years ago. Through the program, young people who were brought to the U.S. as children, and who do not present a risk to national security or public safety, will not face deportation proceedings.
"It was just a situation that I had to keep in mind whenever applying for things," he said of his former status.
For example, he couldn't take advantage of a $10,000 scholarship from the U of I because he didn't have a Social Security number. He also couldn't apply for an engineering program through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"Hopefully my brother can do that," Alejandro said of his 15-year-old sibling, Esteban.
Alejandro's "coming out" as undocumented came during a meeting with U.S. Sen Dick Durbin attended by news media two summers ago at ECC.
"I was scared, definitely," he said. "I talked with my parents first. My parents said, 'You might as well do it.' The culture is changing; people are more understanding."
The biggest obstacle right now, his mother said, is finding a way to pay for Alejandro's U of I tuition. Alejandro has earned about $1,300 in scholarships but will need about $20,500 for just the first semester, she said.
"We need to figure out how to pay for it," she said. "It's our dream and our hope we do that."
Alejandro makes no qualms about being nervous regarding his move downstate.
"I'm kind of a mama's boy. Everything gets done for me now. My mom still makes my bed in morning and breakfast every day, laundry," he said. "I've got a lot to learn in the next couple of months."
Susan Drone, the Illinois Community College Board's associate director for student development, said she has no doubt Alejandro will succeed.
Her first impression of him was that he was articulate and thoughtful, as well as brave for openly speaking about his immigration status.
"He has such a dynamic personality," she said. "He can get students from all different types of backgrounds to listen and consider the viewpoint of somebody that's different from them."
Alejandro is so committed to the concept of servant leadership that he missed his graduation ceremony from an state college board externship so he could speak at his former high school about ECC, she said.
"He embodies humanity and social justice in action more than in words, by providing strong leadership through the example of service within his community, his district and his state."
Good leadership is about understanding others, Alejandro said.
"You really want to understand how the group works as a whole and how to better develop a forum, a safe place for them to come in and give their ideas freely," he said.
"You have ensure that people are supported in their roles, give them measurable goals and give them adequate recognition as they reach their goals. And make them stay accountable."
And most importantly, lead by example, he said.
"Do what you say, more than anything, to show what type of leader you are."
Alejandro Molina HoyosAge: 19
Hometown: Pingree Grove
School: Elgin Community College
Who inspires you? My parents, because of everything they sacrificed to move from Colombia.
What's on your iPod? I listen to Pandora. I like The Kooks, Two Door Cinema Club, alternative