IU Northwest alumna gives a voice to her community
At IU Northwest, Sophia Olazaba learned to use her voice. Back in 2013, she graduated with a degree in political science, and since then, she’s been using her talents to help individuals that need it most.
Today, Olazaba is busy working with a nonprofit in Chicago, the Raise the Floor Alliance. In her role, she manages the partnership between the Cook County Department of Public Health and the CDC. "As the Project Coordinator, I support and coordinate efforts to connect worker centers and relay information to the Department of Public Health," she said. "In my role, I specifically support and assist low wage and immigrant workers."
In addition to advocating for workers’ rights, she’s committed to helping other women of color thrive. Besides her full-time job at Raise the Floor Alliance, she also serves as alumni engagement manager at Cultivate. This position gives Olazaba the chance to give back to a community that helped her earlier in her career.
"Cultivate focuses on building a cadre of emerging women-of-color leaders who are engaged in social, economic, and racial justice movements," she said. "Their overall vision is to create a better future, where women of color are fully accepted, celebrated, respected, and valued."
While in 2022, Olazaba acts as a megaphone for people whose voices aren’t often heard, she didn’t get there overnight. In fact, her first days at IU Northwest were spent as a nursing major.
"I switched to political science, and that was possible because of a conversation I had with Dr. [Marie] Eisenstein," Olazaba said.
She said that Eisenstein was instrumental in helping identify her goals and finding her passions. "Even when she wasn’t trying, she was incredibly supportive," Olazaba said.
Eisenstein wasn’t the only mentor who helped Olazaba find her voice at the Northwest campus. Director of Student Activities Scott Fulk played a pivotal role during her time at the campus, as did Raoul Contreras, associate professor and advisor to ALMA, a student organization devoted to the needs of Latino students.
"Those campus leaders provided a lot of insight into what it looks like being in a leadership role," Olazaba said.
And Olazaba took plenty of opportunities to be a leader while on campus. She served in the senate of the student government association and became the president of ALMA. "It taught me to make sure I’m not the only one at the decision-making table," she said. "Everyone else’s voices are just as integral. ALMA was my first exposure to that."
Plus, running for student senate showed her the immense responsibility that came with holding office, even on a college campus. She gained insight into democratic processes, internal bureaucracy, and communicating with constituents.
"People lean on you to ensure their voices as students are heard," she said. Olazaba never took that responsibility lightly.
Today, that hard work and dedication to being a mouthpiece has paid off several times over. Not only does Olazaba credit IU Northwest for giving her the academic training, but she also emphasizes that her classes and leadership roles instilled confidence in her.
"There were so many people that helped me get to where I am now," Olazaba said. "If I can help someone find themselves like I found myself, I think that makes life as great as it can be."
Olazaba didn’t always know exactly what she wanted, but with the help of outstanding IU Northwest faculty and staff, she soon found her way. With two positions in local nonprofits, she’s turned the tables, and now she gets to be that support system for others.