When Christopher Pineda arrived at AACC, he was quiet, shy and worried about how to pay for classes. The first in his family to attend college, he also had no idea how to navigate higher education or what to expect.
But he had a strong resolve, and as Chris says, something to prove.
Fast forward two years to graduation this past May and not only did he leave as one of the most successful student leaders in college history – a smoke-free campus and the new Riverhawks mascot among his biggest achievements? he also found his life purpose.
But his success was not exactly a guarantee, given some of the obstacles he faced coming in. In fact, his experience at AACC could have gone any number of ways.
"I was really nervous," he says. "I wasn't sure what college was like and since nobody in my family knew much about it, I didn't know how my experience was going to be."
But he wanted to make his family proud, and he was determined to set a good example for his younger siblings. So he plowed forward.
He attended student orientation and immediately found the college to be a welcoming environment. He remembers thinking, "Now this is a campus that really gets involved and connects with you."
He also found support at AACC's Financial Aid office, where he was relieved to learn he qualified for scholarships and grants, and at the Student Achievement and Success Program (SASP). As a first-generation student, he says he received plenty of guidance and support to help him succeed.
Wanting to make some new friends, he also pushed further outside his comfort zone and checked out some clubs through the Office of Student Engagement.
Before long, he got involved with student government and the Campus Activities Board. And by his second semester, he was president of the Student Government Association.
Chris says he learned quickly that he had the freedom to do as much – or as little – as he wanted to shape his presidency. He liked that the legacy he could leave behind was up to him.
"Here at AACC, it's like 'What do you want to do? How are you going to make a change on campus?,'" he says. "If you want to do something, you do it."
That's exactly what Chris did. Working closely with other student leaders on how to make the biggest impact, he listened to the students' needs and began to move forward with some new initiatives, like Spirit Week, a pep rally and "state of the college" addresses.
He also tackled some pretty big initiatives that became big changes for the college. Not only did Chris help AACC become a smoke-free campus, his efforts also resulted in a new mascot and athletics team name of the Riverhawks.
Without question, Chris says he is proudest of helping AACC become a smoke-free college. It didn’t happen overnight, and involved going before college administrators and bringing a policy before the Board of Trustees for a vote.
"It wasn't easy getting a policy introduced to the administration," he says. "I didn't know what was going to happen or if it was going to go forward," adding he learned a lot through the process.
"When it got approved, I was celebrating and texting everyone. 'We did it!,'" he remembers. "It wasn't just me, it was everyone and that's what leadership is. It's not just one person, it's everybody working together as a whole."
From a fairly uncertain beginning to a promising future he feels passionate about, Chris says serving as SGA president helped define for him what he wants to do with his life.
"When I came here, I went through a couple different majors. Getting involved with student government, that's when I discovered my leadership (abilities). I realized there's something I can do with public service, helping out people."
During fall 2016, he began the next phase of his journey as a government policy major at the University of Baltimore, he carries a tremendous sense of pride for all he was able to accomplish at AACC.
"Every SGA president has their choice to do what they want to do, and I think I've made my mark here."