Norma Callejas ’26, right, walks with ALEX Advisor Noelle Niznik.
Spend just a few minutes with Norma Callejas ’26, and you’d be surprised to learn that a year ago this bubbly, enthusiastic sophomore was a timid, self-conscious first-year student who, before arriving at Hamilton, had never set foot outside her home state of Texas.

This summer, Callejas worked on campus as a leader with two organizations that helped launch her college career. As a tutor in Opportunity Programs, she mentored 31 students who were in the same place she was last year — new to the rigors of college life, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, and many living away from home for the first time. Callejas also had a second job, funded through the Joan Hinde Stewart Career Development Program, working remotely with Emerge, a program that prepares high-performing students from underserved communities to attend selective colleges and universities. It was through this program that she first learned about Hamilton.

“I wanted a place where I could study both music and Japanese. I also wanted a school that felt like home,” Callejas said. Although she recalls never feeling homesick at Hamilton thanks in large part to the friends she met through the OP Summer Program, she did have some trouble “processing everything emotionally” at a place that had so much to offer. She didn’t know where to begin.

During orientation, Callejas learned about ALEX (Advise, Learn, EXperience), a coordinated network of campus academic centers, resources, and advisors that connects students with opportunities that fit their interests and goals. She scheduled a meeting with ALEX Advisor Noelle Niznik, and the two found an instant connection. 

“Noelle is a great listener. I never really had someone in high school who I felt comfortable going to with my problems, questions, and concerns. She makes me feel heard,” Callejas said. The two get together periodically to chat about everything from ways to destress after a difficult week to opportunities on campus that Callejas might pursue.

“Noelle is a great listener. I never really had someone in high school who I felt comfortable going to with my problems, questions, and concerns. She makes me feel heard.”

For example, after learning that Callejas was interested in writing and art, Niznik suggested she get involved with the student magazine Signature Style. Callejas took her advice and ended up contributing to a piece on tattoo culture on campus. “It was my first time writing something that wasn’t academic. When the magazine was published, some of the people I interviewed told me how thrilled they were with the article — that made me so happy.”

Armed with her newfound confidence, Callejas participated in a fashion show and as a model for Signature Style’s next edition in a photo shoot that captured her Mexican-American heritage.

“It’s amazing to see the transformation from Norma’s first days on campus to the end of the year,” Niznik said. “She was shy and tentative, but now that she’s learning the ropes, she is confident and pushing herself.”

Outside of class, Callejas fills her days working at the campus mail center and the library circulation desk. A member of the Wind Ensemble, the Latin dance group Tropical Sol, and Poetry Slam, she is planning to start a new job as a Music Department assistant and join the College Choir this fall.

The Class of ’27 is the third to matriculate since ALEX launched in 2021. In addition to an ALEX advisor, each incoming student is assigned a faculty advisor and a career advisor. And although participation in the ALEX program is optional, more than two-thirds of students in the two eligible classes have elected to meet with ALEX mentors.

“Our job as ALEX advisors is to help students get the most out of their Hamilton experience — and help them find that balance between managing the academic rigor and exploring all of the amazing opportunities to grow and learn outside the classroom,” Niznik said. “Norma is a terrific example. By getting to know her interests and aspirations I can point her to opportunities that will hopefully help her make the most out of her time on the Hill.”

This story originally appeared in the 2022 Impact Report that celebrated the end of Hamilton’s successful $400 million Because Hamilton campaign.

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