Peru native Vanessa Faura visited Queens for the first time on a hope and a prayer.
"I was a young mom, working and going to a community college while still trying to perfect my English," she remembers. "But my dreams were bigger... A co-worker was a Queens alumna and encouraged me to at least visit, and as soon as I spent some time on campus my fears went away and I knew this was the place for me."
A decade later, Faura confidently crossed the stage on Burwell Lawn to accept her second diploma from Queens. After earning a bachelor's degree here she went on to complete her master's in organizational and strategic communication.
Faura is now working full-time for a bank while she assesses what's next along her career path.
"I'm already using a lot of what I learned in the master's program in my job," she says. "I've developed a better business sense all around. And going through a big merger I was better equipped to deal with all of the changes because of what I learned at Queens."
Looking back, she says Dr. Bob Whalen was one of the first people she met at Queens, but his influence on her is lasting.
"I just remember him being so inspiring in the way he helped me to expand my thinking," she says. "He also showed me that my questions and ideas were valuable, and that was something I'd never understood."
As an undergraduate at Queens, Faura studied in Greece through the John Belk International Program. She also was chosen to go on the university's annual mission trip to Guatemala.
"Those experiences were life-changing in that they opened my eyes to different ways of life and exposed me to a broader future than I had imagined for myself," she says.
She was inspired to become an ambassador for Queens and started a mentoring program to take high school students to colleges and universities across North Carolina to make sure college is an option as they think about their futures. So far, three of the more than 200 students she's worked with have enrolled at Queens. Scores more have told her they never would've enrolled in college at all if she hadn't nudged them in that direction.
"I didn't come from a family that stressed higher education, so I relate to these young people and the way their thinking can be limited," she says.
She has presented a proposal to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to expand her youth program to high schoolers through the district.
After graduating with her bachelor's degree, Faura took a short break to have her younger child. But she always planned to return for a master's. She says the support from the staff in the Hayworth College of Adult Studies was invaluable in helping her continue her studies after her family grew.
"I really enjoy learning and the people I had been surrounded by inspired me to keep going," she says. "You can go to school to get in and get a degree and get out, or you can devote yourself to developing relationships and building a new life for yourself. They helped make the latter possible for me at Queens not once, but twice."
Above all, Faura says she's proud to be setting a good example for her children, showing them that opportunities are endless when one doesn't limit her thinking.
"I was absolutely terrified when I started at Queens because I just didn't think I was capable of balancing everything and doing well," she remembers. "But by the time I was a senior I was very different person, and not only academically. I became someone even better than I imagined I could be. This transformation all happened because of Queens. I'm forever grateful. To be shown new possibilities for my life is priceless. "