Ariel Ventura-Lazo is featured alongside his family in a heartfelt podcast produced by the Aspen Institute’s Ascend program. He talks about his upbringing as a first-generation American from Alexandria, Va. and provides a chronological context for his educational and career journey.
In 2009, Ariel became the first person in his family to graduate from high school, and in 2010, he registered at NOVA. He paused his education while working 60 hours a week to take care of his son, Ariel Jr. He came back to NOVA in 2014 after several years of working and had decided to give college another shot.
When he returned to NOVA, he and his partner, and they both researched programs that could assist them in their future careers. Then they applied for Generation Hope, a D.C.-based scholarship program that provides funding of up to $1200 and a laptop. The program also included a case manager and mentors as well to ensure that scholars had the tools they needed to succeed. He further became a staff member at NOVA as well, starting first as an administrative assistant and then becoming a program advisor.
As many know, Ventura-Lazo spoke on stage alongside Michelle Obama at the 2019 ‘Beating the Odds’ Conference. There, he spoke about first-generation college-bound students and the challenges he faced as a student parent.
Shortly after the Beating the Odds Conference, Ventura-Lazo presented at the Aspen Institute as part of a conference on children and families. He was connected to this opportunity by Kerin Hilker-Balkissoon, NOVA’s former executive director of college and career pathways. This led to an opportunity to become an in-house parent advisor at the Aspen Institute. The program focuses on the outcomes of both parents and their children for multi-generational success.
While working alongside Billy Ray Davis, an associate director of financial aid on the Annandale campus on his work-study job at NOVA, Ventura-Lazo was assured that there were plenty of opportunities to learn from colleagues. He eventually went on to earn six scholarships in his time at NOVA. Davis assisted him further by providing car rides to interview for scholarships.
“I can honestly say that the opportunity to know, support, and mentor a young man of Ariel's resolve has been amazing”, said Davis. “Often our work at NOVA in support of our students blossoms well beyond the time we interact with our students.”
In 2017, Ariel completed his A.S. in Business Administration from NOVA and is now studying management and psychology at George Mason University.
He has found a calling as a student parent advocate. He was a staff member at NOVA until 2020, and currently works as a program coach at ‘A Father’s Place,’ a Princes George’s County-based non-profit. Today, Ariel is a 30-year-old father of two and is finishing his last year at Mason.
To listen to the Aspen Institute’s ‘1 in 5 Podcast,’ please click the link here: https://1in5.simplecast.com/
Ariel was also interviewed by Telemundo, which was staffed by his fellow NOVA team members on the Alexandria Campus. To view that interview, click here: https://www.telemundowashingtondc.com/noticias/local/joven-mentor-busca-motivar-a-sus-estudiantes_washington-dc/1925490/
Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.