The last semester for college students can be a fruitful experience, as final classes, graduation pictures, cap-and-gown buying and plan-making for their big commencement ceremony all occur. This can also be a bittersweet and stressful time for students finishing up their undergraduate careers, with the pressures of finding a job after graduation and the need for the payment of student expenses just being some of the worries that seniors have before and after they get their degrees.
For Stephanie Cardenas, a senior majoring in general biology with a minor in health sciences, her path to graduation does not just continue through the many books and multitudinous classrooms. Actively serving as the vice president of Multicultural Affairs and Community Service for the Greek Senate at Kean University, the senior's work is rarely ever done.
Cardenas has served in the role of vice president of Multicultural Affairs for the entirety of the school year, and has embraced the responsibilities that have come with it. Cardenas' duties are to engage in as many service projects on and off campus as possible.
"Promoting the idea of service is necessary for various groups that do monthly community projects. I do office hours with the rest of my executive board members and attend weekly meetings to discuss the programs we have planned for the months to come," Cardenas said.
These duties also range from collaborating with the rest of her executive board members and attending weekly meetings to discuss future programs planned by herself and the Greek Senate for the student body to enjoy.
As she too is tasked with the responsibilities that come with being the vice president of Community Service for the Greek Senate, she has meetings with representatives of every organization during Greek Senate meetings, where problems are discussed about the facets within Greek life that they want to improve.
"When introducing my ideas, I immediately look to my fellow Greeks for support," Cardenas mentioned. "They are the groups that promote the idea of service, leadership, and opportunity. As a member of my local sorority Omega Sigma Psi, I have learned those three words for myself."
As a senior member of her organization, Cardenas has largely contributed to the success of her sorority. She has held countless positions within her organization, ranging from community service chair and Greek Senate representative, to secretary, sisterhood chair, vice president and, currently, fundraiser chair.
"The idea of leadership is more than just a role. It is a motivation inside of you to want to achieve a betterment for the people around you. One change can make a difference. It benefits all the students that join in on our campus involvement," Cardenas said.
Obtaining the executive job was a difficult task, but not one that Cardenas could not handle, thanks to her being a member of her Greek organization since the spring of 2015 when she joined in her Freshman year. She proclaims that her loving and supportive sisters gave her the confidence to apply for the executive obligation.
"When first nominated for this position, my sisters believed that I was a good fit. I previously was the community service chair for two years and had made significant changes within my own sorority. I wrote a speech on how my experiences in my own organization made me ready for a position this important," Cardenas stated. "Being chosen for the 2017 and 2018 vice president of Community Service & Multicultural Affairs has inspired me to join in on so many Kean Dance Marathon (KDM) committees, serve a multitude of philanthropies, and participate in service projects like canning that made me feel committed and resourceful for the students who wanted to make that same difference."
Through the countless discussions, meetings, programs and opportunities presented to Cardenas through being on the Greek Senate executive board, the senior general biology major and health minor appreciates the experiences she has had at Kean University. Whether they were on the e-board or within her sorority, her responsibilities have given her lessons about negotiation and teamwork, and memories that may last a lifetime.
"In this position, the board and I are able to see what works and what does not. I enjoy seeing my friends from all clubs, organizations, and societies join in on the projects we promote because they are willing to support," Cardenas said.
Greek life has greatly contributed to her successes as a student and person as well. Moreover, her positions at Kean have mentally propelled her to excel in anything she wants to do in life.
"Omega Sigma Psi Local Sorority made me into the leader I am today. Throughout my entire life before college, I was part of multiple traveling teams for soccer. Being part of a team and being captain taught me to successfully lead a team of girls to victory," Cardenas said. "When coming to this university, I was unsure how to make those first steps of getting involved and Omega gave me that opportunity. They were friends ready to invite me in and lead me to that same victory."
Through her extensive work as an active member of the e-board for the Greek Senate and the fundraising chair for her sorority, Cardenas takes her studies seriously. Wishing to finish her degree and attend either medical school or nursing school after she graduates, the senior has gained the self-confidence necessary to succeed in whatever she desires to complete. Currently, Cardenas stands as a nominee for an internship at The University of Alabama's Neuroscience program to study the cognitive effects of Parkinson's disease. This wouldn't have been possible without the references and networking that she obtained by being involved on campus.
"As a biology major, I am truly dedicated to my studies. Research presentations are essential, and understanding the concepts are critical," Cardenas mentioned. "Being the vice president, I am pushed for understanding the concept of community engagement as well as speaking to an audience to receive feedback of what the students like. The professionalism is rewarding because it has helped me with research presentations and internships."
Hailing from Hawthorne, New Jersey, the senior was part of a graduating class of 150 students at Hawthore High School in 2014. Her road to Kean was a rocky one, as she applied to the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) her senior year of high school due to financial issues. She was able to be selected into the summer program where her dormitory and meal plan were accounted for while also obtaining nine credits after graduating from high school. She attended workshops of different career opportunities, professionalism and service work. In her last semester, the EOF program is considering her for a scholarship to finish her final classes here at Kean.
After May, however, Cardenas will be the first woman in her family to attend and graduate college with a degree in her desired field.
For someone as focused as Cardenas, the sky is the limit. Her role as a vice president on the Greek Senate, her position in her own Greek organization, her preparations for graduation and her lengthy studies all guarantee one thing: Cardenas knows how to keep herself busy. They are all motivating tools, and Cardenas does not only want to use tools as a means to get ready for the life ahead of her, but as an influence to underclassmen who look up to her.
"If I had any advice for younger students, [it would be to] go join something that you care about. Do your research diligently and take your time. Go to programs around campus by using Cougar Link and see what you like," Cardenas said. "When you find what you are passionate about, the leader inside of you will shine through. You will feel comfortable and ready to make changes in your own way."