Natural leader honored for outstanding achievement
International first-generation student and visionary to graduate in December with distinction.
For Bianca Machado, immigrating to the U.S. had always been her dream. “I wanted to be in a movie and take the yellow school bus to school,” she said. “Since I was a little girl, I’ve dreamed of traveling to the U.S.”
At age 19, she came to Colorado from Brazil to be an au pair for a family with three children, the youngest of whom had a physical disability. Seven years later, she’ll receive a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from Metropolitan State University of Denver in December, having earned the Provost’s Award for student achievement.
“Graduating debt-free as a first-generation student is a huge accomplishment and receiving the Provost’s Award is a true symbol of this,” she said. “I’m proud to have found a university that captures the essence of who I am.”
Machado had left college in Brazil, where she was studying to become an English teacher on a scholarship. Machado’s parents were initially concerned that she wanted to leave her scholarship behind, with her college career incomplete.
“At first, they were a little disappointed that I didn’t plan to finish (college in Brazil),” she said. “They didn’t think that was the right thing to do. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a teacher. … But I knew I wanted to come (to the U.S.).”
After working full-time as a nanny for almost two years, she decided to return to college. She recalled how lost she felt during her first year as she struggled to adapt to an academic life again in a foreign country.
“I coped with (these issues by) going to friends that were going through the same thing,” Machado said. “I have some Brazilian friends here that are also going to college. … We have our own little community and have formed a family. I don’t know what I would do without them.”
Her experiences as a caregiver for Cody, a child with mitochondrial disease, inspired her to transfer to MSU Denver and major in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences. However, she struggled with the major and didn’t see herself having a future in the field. With the guidance of her professors, Machado switched to Communication Studies with a minor in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences.
“My Communication professors inspired me to believe that communication is the most important skill for any career. The Department has a quote on their website by James Humes that says a lot about the professional I want to become: ‘The art of communication is the language of leadership.’”
In fall 2021, Machado became vice president of the Delta Rho chapter of Lambda Pi Eta, the National Communication Association’s university honor society, at MSU Denver. A natural leader, Machado was excited that one of her favorite professors, Eric James, Ph.D., had invited her to join. This semester, she’s been a teaching assistant for James.
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Back home in Brazil, Machado’s mother works as a cook for public schools, and her father owns a moving company. She sees her parents every couple of years, when her work schedule allows her to return home and when traveling expenses are affordable.
“Nobody in my family has ever been able to afford to come visit me. It’s a long and expensive trip. I’ve been trying to get a visa for my mom,” Machado said. “We applied two more times this year, but she’s gotten denied every time, so she is not able to come to my graduation. But I did get a visa for my dad, so he is coming.”
It wouldn’t make sense to walk up to the stage and receive her diploma without at least one of her parents there to participate in their shared dream, she said. The family for whom she served as an au pair will also stand by her on her graduation day. She encourages other first-generation and international students who are embarking on their college journeys not to lose momentum.
“Don’t let anybody else limit you,” she said. “You have to trust that the world is going to conspire in your favor. If you can dream it, do it.”