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The Stories of Us: Liberal Arts Major Helping Others Achieve Their Goals

Submitted by on March 26, 2024 – 12:58 pm

This article is part of a regular series called “The Stories of Us,” highlighting the justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion work of Northern Essex Community College students, faculty, and staff. 

Northern Essex Community College liberal arts major Nayeli Almanzar-Lizardo is just 18 years old, but she already knows the importance of giving back to her community. She’s lived in Lawrence since her family emigrated there from the Dominican Republic when she was five years old. Though life was very different from what they were used to in the Dominican Republic, they quickly felt at home in their new city.

“It’s like a mini–Dominican Republic – it’s very sentimental,” says Almanzar-Lizardo. “This is a city of loving people who are working hard each day.”

Almanzar-Lizardo took that spirit of hard work to heart, becoming a standout student and a participant in the Adelante Program at the Lawrence YMCA. The program provides educational and scholarship support to middle school students interested in developing into stronger students and helps students who wish to apply to a private high school.

Liberal Arts major Nayeli Almanzar Lizardo at her high school graduation

Through this program, Almanzar-Lizardo attended Presentation of Mary Academy in Methuen, which was acquired by Notre Dame Cristo Rey the following year. Almanzar-Lizardo continued to excel in the classroom and started working with Groundwork Lawrence as a junior counselor, educating youth about access to healthy food and agriculture. When junior year rolled around, like her classmates, Almanzar-Lizardo also devoted much of her time to applying to college. And like many of her classmates, she was accepted to many four-year institutions. However, those acceptance letters came with a sobering realization.

“When I finally got my letters, I was emotionally distraught because I knew I would have to pay thousands and thousands to attend university. I was in a state of panic. So many of my classmates were getting offers, and I struggled deeply. I realized I would need to borrow at least $100,000 [to afford the schools], a burdening amount of money I could not surmount,” remembers Almanzar-Lizardo. “I have many goals. I aspire to earn my PhD, and I thought, ‘How am I going to get there?’”

Almanzar-Lizardo had heard of Northern Essex and knew it was an affordable option for college. She started doing some more research and decided to apply. She was already sold on the savings but says her decision to enroll was solidified by her experience taking a dual enrollment English Composition class at NECC during her senior year of high school.

“The exposure was just what I needed. Being in the small class made me realize the support that’s available to students at NECC. And because it’s located in my hometown of Lawrence, I recognized this is where I belong.”

Almanzar-Lizardo enrolled at NECC in the fall of 2023 as a Liberal Arts major and participates in NECC’s Pathways to Academic & Career Excellence Program (PACE), which provides wrap-around services to first-generation and low-income students. She is on track to graduate in 2025 with her associate degree. She plans to transfer to a four-year school and eventually get her PhD in psychology.

“I realized the school was offering just as many opportunities as other colleges. I recognized this is a place where I can grow and succeed,” she says.

Outside of the classroom, Almanzar-Lizardo continues to help her community. She now works for the Lawrence YMCA as an Adelante program advisor, mentoring middle school students and presenting and speaking to various groups about educational opportunities.

“I see a version of myself in each of my students; they inspire me every day. I remind them that everything works itself out in the end. I can’t imagine where else I’d be.”