When Faced with Difficulties, It Brings Out the Kind of Person You Truly Are

More than a decade ago, as part of ACT’s 50th anniversary celebration, ACT established the ACT Scholars Program, as part of a pair of endowments to nurture the academic talent of graduate and community college students at the University of Iowa and Kirkwood Community College. These two institutions share ACT’s passion for helping all students achieve their ambitions in college and their careers. ACT emphasized scholarships for students from populations for which the cost of higher education could have presented a significant barrier to college access and accomplishments.

We will feature ACT Scholar blogs regularly, to hear their stories and learn about their college-going journeys. Learn more about the ACT Scholar program.

photo of Juanito PiperWhat was your motivation for going to college and earning a degree?

I started working labor jobs young to earn money and doing so helped guide my values and gain a respect for every type of job out there. I just personally sat back and evaluated my future and didn’t want to work a manual labor job the rest of my life.

What are you currently studying? What degree do you hope to earn?

I’m about to start my fifth semester of the occupational therapy assistant (OTA) program and will finish this May, having earned my associate of applied science (AAS) degree. Following my graduation, I will take the board exam to become a certified OTA.

Why did you select this area of study?

I knew I wanted to help people with some sort of improvement, whether that was a physical injury, mental barriers, or weight gain or loss. I had a sense of passion toward that career path. I wasn’t aware of occupational therapy until my senior year (of high school) when my technology teacher talked to me about my future and brought up occupational therapy as something I may be interested in. I explored it more and I am very happy with my decision. I wouldn’t want to be in any other program for OTA.

Who inspired or supported you in your college-going journey?

My family:  mom, two brothers, two sisters, and my grandmother have always been very supportive with everything I’ve done. I am very lucky to have such a strong support system behind me to tackle any life goals I may want to accomplish.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a college student?

My biggest challenge I have had to face is probably one I am currently facing. Starting January 9, I will be in Des Moines (Iowa) for clinicals the entire spring semester and I am responsible for finding a place to live during that time. It is a little nerve wracking, but I enjoy having this responsibility. I believe that, when faced with difficulties, it brings out the kind of person you truly are. If I am not able to at the very least learn from my troubles, then I am doing something wrong and need to take a step back to re-evaluate how I am living my life.

What advice would you give to a first-generation college student today?

I recommend finding what works for you–not one thing will work for everyone and to take advantage of any resources Kirkwood (or your school) has to offer if you need them. My school offers an extensive amount and just asking about everything they have to offer could benefit you and your future.

What goals have you set for yourself?

I am a very goal-oriented person and like to set large goals for myself physically, mentally, and educationally. My current long-term goals are to become a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and compete at worlds at every level prior to that. I am currently at the blue belt level and plan to compete at the blue belt worlds in 2024. I also plan to run a marathon in 2023 in sub four hours.

Mentally my goals are more short term where I am always trying to stop and think about how I am feeling about any given thing throughout my day. I am also always trying to listen to other people’s views, whether they align with mine or not. I always think it is important to listen to everyone’s honest views before dismissing them completely.

Educationally, I am very excited to complete my AAS degree in the OTA program and eventually pass my boards. I plan to use my clinical experience to help guide my path in specialization and area of practice I want to learn more about.

Anything else you’d like to share?

My ethnicity is half Mexican half Canadian. My nationality is American. I grew up knowing I was in “poverty”, because my mom kept me in touch with our finances since I was helping out some. When I tried to comfort her that would be her main worry, so it made sense for me to understand our situation better from a younger age. I think my relationship with my mother is what shaped me into who I am now and what led to my hard-working mentality, making me a first-generation college student in my family.

Juanito Piper is about to start his final semester in the occupational therapy assistant program at Kirkwood Community College. He is a first-generation college student and ACT Scholar.  After his spring 2023 graduation he plans to take his board exam to become a certified occupational therapy assistant and begin work in his field.  His long-term goals include becoming a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and competing in the world competition.