Student Story

The give-and-take of counseling

After flourishing under the guidance of a community college counselor, EC student Keily Molina pays it forward.

By Diane Krieger Published on

It wasn't so long ago that Keily Molina was on the receiving end of much-needed college counseling.

“I come from a low-income household, and my parents are undocumented Mexican immigrants. They don’t know anything about higher education,” says the 24-year-old native Angeleno who grew up in Koreatown.

So Molina welcomed all the help she could get fine-tuning personal statements, filtering through scholarship aggregators and filling out financial-aid forms.

Today, as a second-year student in the Master of Education in Educational Counseling (EC) program at USC Rossier, she’s on the giving end of the counseling relationship. She’s advised hundreds of students already. During her first year, she interned as a Promise Success coach at West Los Angeles College. She spent last summer at El Camino College as a Financial Aid & Academic Student Training intern with the First-Year Experience program. In the fall, she started two new jobs: interning at the USC Career Center and mentoring transfer students at East Los Angeles College.

After having “bad experiences” with high school counselors, Molina discovered what good counseling looks like in community college. It looks like Maibe Bañuelos.

The Extended Opportunity and Programs counselor at Santa Monica College firmly held Molina’s hand for three years, and the two have stayed close.

“She knows everything about me—personally, professionally, academically. I feel like I could tell her anything,” Molina says. “I want to be just like Maibe.”

Bañuelos vividly recalls her first counseling session with Molina, back in 2017. “I couldn’t help noticing how prepared and determined Keily was,” she says. “She had a list of questions for me and had researched the topics we were going to discuss.” That thoroughness, combined with “empathy and genuine care for others, will make her a perfect fit for this career,” Bañuelos predicts.

Financial obstacles had made Molina choose a community college over a four-year university. She lived at home and subsidized her education as a Starbucks barista. Even after transferring to the University of California, Santa Barbara, she attended remotely her junior year during the pandemic. It was a difficult time for her family, and Molina found herself shouldering heavy responsibilities. Her uncle had died of COVID-19, and her younger brother was undergoing cancer therapy. Her parents were at high risk of the coronavirus due to diabetes and hypertension. Molina’s father is a housekeeper at the Jonathan Club. Her mom is a senior caregiver and babysitter. Both are non-English speakers.

Committed college counselors like Maibe Bañuelos had helped Molina stay on track academically through adversity, and ever since, Molina has been determined to pay it forward. At UCSB, she got involved with the university’s transfer program as a “flock” mentor and peer educator. “I saw there were transfer students like me who needed a lot of support and guidance,” she says. “And I fell in love with education in general.”

Molina graduated from UCSB in 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and minors in education and applied psychology. She enrolled at USC Rossier in fall 2022, and her experiences at the school have far exceeded her expectations.

“I didn’t expect to create such amazing friendships with my cohort-mates,” she says. “I love how all of us are connected, and we all support each other. We’re a team. If there’s a job announcement or program opening, we share that because we all want to see each other go up the ladder.”

When she first started looking into programs, Molina attended a USC Rossier informational session where she connected with Annie Villanueva ME ’22. The two hit it off, and over the next year, Molina repeatedly turned to Villanueva for help sharpening her résumé and nailing down her personal statement. Villanueva later offered to introduce Molina to her supervisor at West Los Angeles College, where she was then a counseling intern. That introduction led to Molina’s yearlong internship at the college.

Helping students like herself succeed academically is Molina’s mission. She says she wants to be a change agent in higher education. “I’m passionate about being a counselor. I really want to see students succeed the way I saw my counselors wanted me to succeed,” she says. Her ME in educational counseling, she feels, will get her there.

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