After helping to found the student organization known as STAN (Students Taking Action Now), Torres was recently honored as TRiO’s Most Engaged Student during the annual student awards program held in early May at the Signal Peak Campus.
Sherrie Soria, who coordinates the TRiO Student Support Services program at CAC, believes the college is now reaping the benefits of Torres’ journey.
“Edna shows the qualities of an outstanding leader,” Soria said. “Her persistence, upbeat attitude and drive to make this world a better place are qualities that set her apart from other students. Edna is a tremendous asset to CAC and TRiO Student Support Services.”
“Nerve-racking,” was how Torres described her receipt of her award. She is not one who expects to be recognized because she enjoys what she does. “I really like to serve people,” she added. “It’s my main goal and I have fun doing it.”
In speaking with Torres about her past, present and future, there is a sense that she will soon grow accustomed to the feeling she had at the awards ceremony. It is for obvious reasons (and some not so obvious) that Torres is drawn to a life of service. And it is how she has arrived at that life of service, and how she plans to continue it, that makes her story one worth telling.
Born in Murray, Utah, to a mother from Phoenix and a father from Mexico City, Torres and her family moved from the Beehive State back to Phoenix shortly after she was born.
Roughly five years later, the Torres family was back in Utah before ending up in Minnesota for seven years. It wasn’t until Torres’ senior year of high school that her family moved back to Phoenix, a difficult move, to be sure.
If you do the math, there were obviously numerous moves made within those big moves - including a three-year stay in Las Vegas - but Torres is quick to squelch any pity for her nomadic upbringing.
“I personally loved it,” she stated. “It was quite an experience. It definitely helped me become well-rounded and the person I’ve become today. I wouldn’t have changed it for anything.”
Torres’ moves between Arizona and Minnesota were the most jarring. She saw herself as a tomboy thanks, in part, to growing up in a house with two older brothers, Anthony and Alex. Torres also has an older sister, Kimberly, who is six years older.
Through her formative years, Torres enjoyed playing football and working on cars while other girls did, well, whatever typical adolescent girl things. And while that didn’t mean much in the Grand Canyon State, it was a different story in the northern United States.
“It was such a culture difference in Minnesota. The guys didn’t know how to handle [my being a tomboy] and girls just thought I was weird.”
Torres has, in her mind, acquired some of the personality traits of the behavior known as Minnesota nice - the stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesota, to be courteous, reserved and mild-mannered.
Look up the phrase in the dictionary and perhaps Torres’ photo would be adjacent to the definition. But after moving back to Phoenix, she was able to delve into another side of her persona that had yet to be tapped.
Although her father was from Mexico, her Latin heritage was something she didn’t really get to explore. That changed in Arizona where her peers were more accepting of her tomboyish interests.
“Moving back to Phoenix, I could be a girly girl and still work on cars whenever I wanted.”
It was upon her return to Phoenix as a high school senior that Torres was first introduced to CAC. While taking automotive and diesel classes through the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT), one of her teachers suggested she look up CAC’s diesel technology program.
Torres’ father took her to CAC for a visit and her enrollment at the college was imminent.
Torres, though, didn’t enroll at CAC simply to study diesel technology. After working with a similar program in high school, she applied for and was accepted to the college’s TRiO Student Support Services program.
TRiO provides students with services such as personalized and individual advising, faculty and peer mentors, cultural excursions, exclusive math, reading, and writing tutoring, and more.
To be eligible for TRiO, students must meet one of three requirements: They must come from a low-income household, be a first-generation college student, or have a documented disability. Torres met multiple criteria and used her persistence to knock open as many opportunities as possible.
In addition to the program’s writing tutors, Torres cites her communication with her TRiO advisors as one of the things she has enjoyed most about her experience at CAC.
“I feel comfortable talking to them about anything, really.”
She also enjoys the cultural excursions afforded by the program. Torres was able to attend the NCLC (National Collegiate Leadership Conference) at the University of Arizona in February.
“That was a blast,” she said. “It was so much fun and I was able to grow internally. There’s no way I would have had access to that without TRiO.”
It is particularly fitting that Torres had access to that conference, given her role in the creation of STAN last fall as a first semester freshman.
The organization began as the Summer Bridge Club, named after the extended orientation offered to incoming CAC students, but Torres thought the name was misleading since one didn’t have to have attended Summer Bridge to join the club.
When no one from the previous year took the reins of the club, Torres and three other freshmen - Ana Fernanda Benitez, Brenda Becerra, and Akeela Battee-Sykes - volunteered to be the club’s officers, guiding it through a name and mission change.
“As a whole, we all agreed on sets we wanted to serve and to build our community. We wanted to connect more with our community and our peers and play a bigger role in the upcoming generation.”
Torres said that the new club wanted to place particular focus on serving the nearby cities of Casa Grande and Coolidge as the officers felt that there had been missed opportunities to connect with both towns.
Instead of simply complaining about a lack of a local connection, STAN, with its fabulous four freshmen officers, set out to build that community. The club’s big project this year was raising money and awareness for Casa Grande’s Relay for Life. Torres served as the team’s captain.
Torres believes STAN would have done more this year but the club suffered significant attrition with many members leaving in the spring semester. Stripped to only its officers, STAN’s sole focus in 2011-12 was Relay for Life.
Now that the club is more established, the Fab Four have designs on greater accomplishments for 2012-13. The officers of STAN would like the club to work with a women’s shelter, food drives and, in general, work with underserved members of the community.
“We want to branch out of the normal service activities to try and reach the people who are looking for help but don’t know how to find it.”
Branching out is nothing new for Torres, and STAN’s activities next year won’t be the last such instance for her. After originally enrolling in the diesel tech program to work on semi-trucks and fleets, Torres now is excited about the prospect of working on trains when she graduates.
Despite beaming as she discusses the prospect of working on trains, Torres’ education in the diesel tech industry is a means to an even bigger end.
“I’m majoring in my hobby and it’s always in demand for technicians. But right now, I see it as a fallback job and a way to pay my way through college.”
Ultimately, Torres dreams of getting a degree in psychology and working within an aftercare program for adolescents re-entering society after leaving correctional facilities.
Now that she is at CAC and with TRiO, Torres has plenty of avenues through which she can expand upon her dedication to service. And she doesn’t hesitate to demonstrate her gratitude toward those who have helped during her first year at the college.
“I have had the best professors I could have ever hoped for,” she said. “They are helping me in ways I can’t describe.”
One such faculty member is Donald Flewelling, CAC professor of diesel technology. One of his biggest lessons is that confidence is essential while working with diesel technology. A lack of confidence causes hesitancy and hesitancy causes mistakes.
“Without CAC, I wouldn’t have been privileged to be his student,” Torres said, “and to learn how to not just be book smart, but to be intelligent about myself and what’s going on around me.”
Torres cites Flewelling as the reason she came to CAC; Flewelling considers Torres to be one of his best students and is impressed by her intelligence as well as her attitude in the classroom.
“She has spunk and desire, is a team leader, and has more energy than the Energizer Bunny. It’s just a joy to have her in class.”
Torres is confident about her ability to move on to the university environment. Thanks to the support of the TRiO program, she won’t be intimated.
“TRiO’s kind of holding my hand as I’m walking through this transition.”
Despite her untraditional upbringing, Torres gives her parents all the credit for what she has achieved to this point.
“I’m extremely proud of my parents for everything they’ve done for me. I have wonderful parents and I am who I am today because of them.”
Considering how far she has figuratively and literally come to this point, and the support system she has behind her, it’s difficult to imagine her not going much further than that in the future.