“Challenges Became My Fuel”: An Interview with Brisel Jiménez

I visited with Brisel (CRSM ’15, UIC ’19) during one of her visits to Cristo Rey St. Martin as a new full-time hire at Advanced Group, a staffing company operating across the US and Europe. She shared her experiences at Cristo Rey, University of Illinois at Chicago, and her work with the Corporate Work Study Program in Chicago and San Francisco. The following conversation has been edited and condensed.

Luckily for me, we met at a business partner appreciation event – I didn’t know about your involvement with Cristo Rey work study. And congrats on your graduation from UIC!

Thanks. Both have been such important experiences for me.

You’re graduating with a major in Economics with minors in Sociology and Entrepreneurship, was HR always a goal for you?

As a student at Cristo Rey, I worked at Advanced Group for 3 years. I never thought of HR as something I could do, but I had mentors at Advanced Group who helped me find that I love anything “HR”. They believed in me. So when I graduated CRSM, I continued working for them. They were extremely flexible with my hours while I worked toward my bachelors which provided me with an income to finish school. By the time I was a senior at UIC, my position at Advanced Group included mentoring twelve Cristo Rey students.

It sounds like your academic and work study experience at Cristo Rey made the transition to college easy.

I did very well at Cristo Rey, but my performance as a freshman at UIC was not what it should have been. I struggled. I felt overwhelmed; I didn’t expect that so much would be thrown at me so quickly. Suddenly I’m in a huge lecture hall with a professor on a microphone. I had doubts about myself. I was in the city, learning to navigate public transportation. It was easy to become overwhelmed. You don’t feel at home at college…and you can start doubting. There were times when I did not feel like I was supposed to go to college.

How did you deal with all of that?

It became clear to me that this was my biggest challenge – that this could hold me back. I recognized that there was something about overcoming this obstacle and getting my college degree that was going to make me – make up my character.

And that became my fuel.

I found the power of asking questions, of advocating for myself. If you don’t, the currents will take you. I know how powerful your thoughts are – thoughts of self-doubt, internal negative comments. It comes from not knowing what is going to happen. And pride holds you back because you think it’s too late to ask questions. But it’s never too late, no matter what stage you’re in. I was surprised at how many people were willing and happy to help. Though sometimes I wonder how I found the courage to finish. And now I’m helping students get through those same feelings.

So where did that courage come from?

[pause] Thinking about it now, it came from several places. My mother is a fearless “go-getter”. She doesn’t have a lot of education, but she learns how to get what she wants and tirelessly works toward it. She has been my inspiration. When I had struggles, the simple words I believe in you were the most powerful. Cristo Rey, including Principal Odiotti’s speeches about grit, and the Work Study Program gave me the benefit of the doubt – which put me in a position to win.

As a new graduate what are your thoughts about your future?

I find that I don’t spend too much time thinking about the future. Concentrating on what’s in front of me right now seems to work better for me. I am going to start on my Master’s in Human Resource Management right away so I can help the company with my current projects.