Sometimes, Leticia Y Romo Bueno says, “The things I’ve done just don’t seem real.”
She started working in a small fishing village in Mexico just as she started grade school. At age 8, she served as caretaker for her two younger siblings. As a teenager, she fled with her family when drug gangs moved into her town, then was smuggled into the U.S. by human traffickers known as “coyotes.” She survived an abusive relationship and a period of homelessness before she finished high school. Now she’s raising two children with special needs.
Through it all, she persevered and became the first in her extended family to graduate from college. She earned an associate’s degree at Green River College, then a bachelor’s degree at the University of Washington Tacoma. Now she’s pursuing her master’s in information management at the Information School with an eye toward helping people who have faced some of the same obstacles she has.
Some of those obstacles have involved gaps in information. For example, when Romo Bueno was a senior in high school, immigration authorities detained her father, whose frightened family didn’t know where he was for three days.
“That was one of the most traumatic things I’ve ever been through because we didn’t know what happened,” she said. “Because we were all undocumented, what could we really do? Who could we ask for help? That’s still going on. That’s still a very real thing that people go through every day.”
“She always seemed to have this positive perspective on what was possible for her. It was really inspiring.”
Her experience trying to secure disability services for her children also motivates Romo Bueno. It took years of effort and many phone calls to get help for her son, who is on the autism spectrum, and her daughter, who has a rare genetic disorder.
“When you have a disability, depending on the disability, how do you access information? It’s not clear, and it’s not readily available,” said Romo Bueno, who majored in criminal justice at the UW Tacoma. She is taking her MSIM classes online on the Early-Career Accelerated track, specializing in program/product management and consulting.
“I’d like to try to bridge the information need that’s out there for communities like mine,” she said. “Having that personal experience and gaining knowledge through the MSIM program will help me do that.”
While she has always done well in school, Romo Bueno said it has never come easily to her. Through her struggles, she’s found the motivation to keep pushing forward. Initially, she felt indebted to her parents, who instilled in her the value of education and a strong work ethic. Now her inspiration comes from her children and a desire to provide for her daughter, whose condition means she will never be able to live independently. She decided to pursue a master’s degree to increase her earning potential and provide for her child’s long-term care.
Romo Bueno earned her associate’s degree through six years of hard work, taking classes as time allowed. Her determination was apparent at the UW Tacoma, which awarded her the Chancellor’s Medal when she earned her bachelor’s in June 2020. Each year, the award recognizes a student who is a source of inspiration for faculty and fellow students and who has overcome obstacles to complete their degree.
“She would have had every right to be jaded and discouraged and angry, but never brought that to the classroom,” said Jeff Cohen, an associate professor in the School of Social Work & Criminal Justice and executive director in the Office of Global Affairs at UW Tacoma. “She always seemed to have this positive perspective on what was possible for her. It was really inspiring.”
Cohen was among the faculty who nominated Romo Bueno for the medal, which she received at a special ceremony at her home in Puyallup amid the pandemic-induced lockdowns of 2020. The university set up a stage in her back yard, and then-Chancellor Mark Pagano presented her with the medal. Her parents and family — now all in the U.S. legally — were there to watch.
Cohen said Romo Bueno embodies Tacoma’s nickname, “Grit City.”
“I’m really incredibly impressed with Leticia’s perseverance, and the way she epitomizes the students at UW Tacoma who have complex histories and current life circumstances and yet still are able to navigate the higher education system and succeed,” he said.
Romo Bueno was initially accepted to the residential mode of the MSIM program in 2020, but decided to wait until 2021 and shift to the online mode to stay close to her children. Her husband works long hours to support their family, and an iSchool Dean’s Scholarship is helping to reduce the financial burden of graduate school.
After arriving in the MSIM program with no knowledge of the information management field, she credits her instructors and advisors with helping her settle in. Like everything else she’s accomplished, her master’s degree will be the product of perseverance.
“It’s hard, but it’s great because it reminds me that it’s worth it,” she said.