GCCT Cohort Year: 2023

Hometown: Bogota, Colombia 

Community College in City, State: Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fl 

Four-Year University in City, State: TBA

Major: Business and Global Affairs 

Current/Most Recent Role: Student and Associate Director at World Trade Center Tampa Bay

Bio: Juan Penagos completed his associate’s degree in Business Management in the spring of 2023 and is currently pursuing a degree in Business and Global Affairs with the aim of serving in international institutions like the World Bank. Apart from his academic pursuits, Juan has a strong commitment to public service, evident in his role as a young council member in Funza, Colombia, and as a student trustee at HCC. He has been an advocate for a community college education at regional, state, and federal levels, with a particular focus on supporting the Latino community. Juan’s final goal is to be able to help communities progress through the economic development of the families within. He also wants to come back to serve on the HCC board of trustees in the future to continue helping the development of the greater Tampa Bay. 

Most Impactful Undergraduate Experience:  Being a foreigner in the US higher education system was transformative. Studying alongside individuals from diverse backgrounds, religions, and perspectives at HCC opened my eyes to the richness of human diversity and broadened my horizons.

What was your community college/transfer journey like, and how did it lead to where you are today? My transfer journey didn’t go as smoothly as planned. I faced challenges, including not gaining admission to my desired university and financial aid limitations as an asylum seeker. Before going to CCGAF, I was hopeless and preoccupied with my academic future. I felt like if every single great opportunity had a “close sign”, it was exhausting to find amazing opportunities to just see “Citizenship required.” 

With all of that in mind, I went to CCGAF, where I took some fresh air. It was an amazing time to learn about what I want to do in my life, and also to get the mentorship of some amazing people that helped me to see that there are places that can support my journey. Having great mentors like Leia Yen, Nicholas Shafer, Nicole Musano, Vishva Bhatt, and Frank Justice was a game changer in my academic journey. I am now excited to start my new applications to different scholarship opportunities, and new universities to continue my education in global affairs. I have to say, everyone that I met at CCGAF has been fundamental in continuing my journey either because they offered emotional support, brainstorming, or guidance in the different states of reorganizing my plan. 

GCCT Experience: CCGAF was much more than what any paper can tell you. They managed masterfully to create a crash course of opportunities that one can apply and to create the connections necessary for the student to get into those opportunities. Nevertheless, there is a different area that not many people point out, but that was the most important for me because it is what had the biggest impact on the participants. In the otherwise flawless program, there was a day when things did not work as it was planned. Without getting into details, there was a disagreement between a part of the program and the rest of it. At this point, we the fellows received a masterclass on leadership and diplomacy. The way the problem was addressed empowered us, and showed us that they cared about our opinions and points of view. It was a crucial point for me, I loved and enjoyed the program before that moment, but after it, I actually felt empowered to have a bigger voice and to feel that it was our space. I think that is one of the most successful points of CCGAF, they made us believe that we are empowered to be the leaders of the new face of global affairs.  CCGAF has been the incubator of the leadership of the future.

Current Aspiration: I am focused on continuing the battle for my education one more time. In applying to the colleges in which I want to study and finding sources of financial aid to pay for it. I want to study global affairs at Georgetown University and continue working for peace through economic development. 

What advice do you have for up-and-coming community college students?

Enjoy, work hard, and never stop dreaming. 

Anything that you do has to be with joy, after meeting with so many people at CCGAF, you will find that everyone enjoys what they do and that makes everything better. If you are passionate about what you do, the battle will be easier, and a door will always open after the darkness arrives. 

Work hard because it is a game that never ends. In this field, everyone is always working to improve and to create something. Every single person that you meet might be important in the future, and you must always try to cultivate relationships that benefit all parties, and even the community. Global affairs is an amazing area that allows you to have a lot of freedom to develop different areas of knowledge and skills. 

In the same sense, never stop dreaming. There is no limit to what you can do and accomplish in this journey. There is also no education requirement to work in global affairs, you can study anything you want because when having global discussions all points of view are welcome. Do not just focus on one path, because in reality there is a lot of freedom to develop yourself in multiple areas and still be a great candidate for global affairs. PLEASE allow yourself to change your plans, and play the game that this life presents you, that perhaps is the best way to enjoy the path.