Phoenix Feature: Exploring the Past, Shaping the Future

Iseli Irizarry

“The temptation to anticipate professional fame is a strong one, and my success, humble as it has been, is well calculated to mislead young men of genius and ambition. Whatever the degree of that success may have been they may be assured that it would have been much greater and more substantial if like many others, who may not have succeeded as well, I had first acquired a sound education and stored my mind with useful knowledge.”

(Martin Van Buren, Autobiography 12-13)

The most important path is the one that you are on, and the most important choice is the one right in front of you. In her senior year of high school, Iseli Irizarry was led to Cumberland University while searching for ways to earn college credits. 

Iseli grew up in the Lebanon community, and her time as a Dual Enrollment student only endeared her to the university further, saying, “Because of Dual Enrollment, I had a better idea of what to expect in my classes and was familiar with some professors already when I began my first year at CU. Since I came in with almost a semester’s worth of credits, I was able to take more challenging classes earlier on.”

As a first-generation student, Iseli has unique insight into the purpose and power of education. She personally hopes to use her career to help others, which drove her to pursue an education in the field of psychology.

“Education means advancement, especially when it’s paired with proactive attitudes and behaviors. I believe that through educating ourselves we are able to bring progression and cultivate a better world for future generations. I also believe education is largely achieved through gaining deeper insights and developing the ability to critically think about topics. Knowledge is so powerful, especially when applying it to real-world situations outside of the classroom.”

Iseli knows first hand the difference that experiential learning makes during a student’s educational journey. In the summer of 2022, she held an internship in the district attorney’s office. Iseli described that time brightly, saying, “I was able to make connections between what I learned from my psychology classes and what I experienced in my internship. I also left the internship with a different kind of knowledge than what I learned in class. Education and knowledge don’t just come from what we are taught in school, but it’s also what we learn through experiences.”

This interactive learning style that has been so beneficial for Iseli is a point of pride at Cumberland. Iseli has taken advantage of the wealth of resources and opportunities available to Cumberland students. Last year, when she wasn’t in class, she could often be found in the Vise Library studying or interning with the illustrious Papers of Martin Van Buren Project. 

“One of my favorite aspects about Cumberland University is how the education is fostered to be engaging and interactive,” said Iseli. “For two semesters, I had the opportunity to be an undergraduate intern for the Papers of Martin Van Buren. The project works to make documents, which belonged to the 8th U.S. president, accessible to the public by visiting”

Dr. Max Matherne, Assistant Professor of History and Assistant Editor for the Papers of Martin Van Buren Project, spoke highly of Iseli’s work ethic and attention to detail. 

“During her time at the Van Buren Papers, Iseli honed her problem-solving skills to transcribe manuscripts that less determined students would find illegible beyond hope. She also tracked down the identities of obscure individuals mentioned in these letters, finessing research skills that will be useful for her graduate studies. In all these undertakings, Iseli consistently impressed us with her truly exceptional attention to detail, which will serve her well in future collaborations with professors and fellow Psychology researchers.” 

At first, her Psychology major may not seem to have a direct correlation with this historical undertaking, but Iseli says she left the internship with more valuable skills than when she began by approaching the internship with a unique perspective. 

“Psychology involves studying the way people think and behave, so I kept that approach in mind as I read through the different perspectives and topics from centuries ago. Additionally, the whole process of making the documents digitally available for the public involves collaboration and team effort. It makes me so grateful to have worked alongside such talented faculty, staff, and students who diligently progress the project. I’m looking forward to seeing the Papers of Martin Van Buren continue to flourish and uncover more knowledge about the past!” 

Iseli’s involvement at Cumberland goes even further than her two most recent internships. She is also a member of the university’s Student Government Association as the Treasurer, the President of the Psi Chi Psychology honor society and Omicron Delta Kappa respectively, and a member of the following honor societies: Alpha Lambda Delta, Gamma Beta Phi, and Pi Gamma Mu.

Though she is a first generation student, Iseli’s support system has always pushed her to be great and remain diligent and stalwart in her educational journey; surely this drive comes, at least in part, from the attachments to Cumberland stretching from high school to her present life. 

As she prepares for her final academic year before leaving the nest, she reflects on her time at Cumberland.

“My favorite memory at CU isn’t a single event in particular; instead, it’s a collection of simple moments that I’ve gotten to share with some of the people in my life that I’m especially grateful for. For example, my brother also attended CU and graduated recently, so I enjoyed randomly seeing him around campus and talking to him. I also enjoy learning more through my psychology classes and hearing my professors lecture about topics they are passionate about. Those simple moments make me smile and make me thankful to be earning an education that I truly enjoy.”

Iseli is one of the many students whose educational journeys and futures are being shaped by the university’s traditional liberal arts education that teaches practical knowledge and skills, preparing students for successful lives beyond their time at Cumberland. 

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