Sthephanil Salazar: Do what you can with what you have


The honors keep pouring in for one Northampton Community College student who aspires to work in biotechnology and genetic engineering. Sthephanil Salazar, 32, earned the ESSA Bank and Trust Foundation Annual Scholarship, which will enable her to continue her studies while working full-time, and keep sending money to her parents and twelve-year-old son, Jordi, in Guatemala.

“I was excited because it was very hard for me when I first started,” Salazar said, “I’m very grateful for the opportunity. It inspires me.”

Salazar enrolled at NCC just before the pandemic forced her to adapt to virtual learning for herself and her six-year old daughter, Victoria, said her advisor, Catherine Kehler. Salazar overcame the COVID-related challenges to earn a place on the Dean’s List and a 3.92 grade point average.

Knowing no English, Salazar immigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala 10 years ago. She learned to speak fluently using a bilingual dictionary to help her decipher the words in books written for native speakers. Watching subtitled anglophone movies sped her progress and she naturally mastered the language through immersion.

Salazar had started college in Guatemala but left her studies when she became a single mother to her son, Jordi, now 12. In 2010, she joined her sister in Florida and found American life isolating despite her developing conversational ability.

Soon after arriving in the U.S., Salazar found work babysitting her sister’s friends’ children before moving to Allentown in 2013 to live closer to her aunt. After receiving her green card, she worked as a housekeeper and later accepted a position in a department that built chassis for Mack Trucks. Her current job testing water quality closely aligns with her lifelong goal of helping society through science.

After completing her general education requirements at NCC, Salazar plans to transfer to Cedar Crest College, Allentown, to pursue a bachelor’s degree in genetic engineering and biotechnology.

Salazar’s achievements and compassion stem from her commitment to learning from adversity and having faith that tenacity will lead to her improving the world, she said. “This is my philosophy: do what you can with what you have where you are,” said Salazar.