Karina Vazquez’s story, from working in fast food to being a scientist at Eli Lilly and Company, is not just about personal success; it reflects the broader potential of community colleges to empower students to overcome barriers and achieve their dreams. As Vazquez continues to make strides in her field, she remains a compelling example of how access to the right resources and opportunities can change lives.

“The best thing about Ivy Tech was that they gave me my start,” Vazquez, ‘17, said in an interview for Ivy+ Career Link

Vazquez faced significant barriers after high school due to her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, which made her college prospects daunting. The financial pressures and the limitations posed by DACA compelled her to take a gap year, during which she worked 60-hour weeks at a fast-food restaurant to save for college. This period was a reality check that pushed her to seek affordable education options. 

Vazquez’s encounter with Ivy Tech Indianapolis was a turning point for her. The community college not only offered her a feasible pathway into higher education but also a chance to transfer later to a four-year college. Ivy Tech became more than just an educational institution for Karina; it was where she discovered her potential and passion for chemistry. Initially aiming for medical school, her goals evolved after meeting a professor who recognized her talent.

“[Ivy Tech] helped me understand that I was capable of excelling in chemistry, biology, and being in STEM; that somebody like me could be in that field,” Vazquez said. 

The College's supportive atmosphere bolstered Vasquez’s confidence and showcased the diversity in STEM fields. When an Ivy Tech contact encouraged her to apply for a paid internship in biochemistry at Eli Lilly, it provided her with practical experience and helped her visualize a future for herself as a scientist in a prestigious company.

“The biggest thing that helped me see myself at Eli Lilly was my internship because I saw people that looked like me in positions that I never thought I would be able to do,” Vazquez said. 

Today, Vaqzquez is proud to contribute to the healthcare industry by being part of a team that designs and develops new medications. Her work could save lives, a fulfilling realization that underscores the importance of her journey and the impact of Ivy Tech in setting her on this path.

Learn about the Lily Scholars @ Ivy Tech program.

Read More: Ivy Tech Community College opens biopharmaceutical science and technology lab on the campus of Ivy Tech Indianapolis

Supported by Eli Lilly and Company, the new lab will enable Ivy Tech students to access customized education and training in a state-of-the-art learning environment

About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.