Profile Text: Michel Reising Audio Profile: Autumn McClain Photos: Autumn McClain
The prospect of a better life–“the pursuit of happiness”–is what has drawn immigrants to the United States from its founding, and is what brought the Coronel and Pastrana families to settle in Storm Lake, Iowa. Both Heidi Coronel’s and Diana Pastrana’s parents were born in Oaxaca, Mexico, and were drawn to look for work in the United States. Twenty-two years ago, Diana Pastrana was born in Santa Maria, California, and around the same time Heidi Coronel was born in Denison, Iowa.
Shortly after Coronel and Pastrana were born, their respective families learned of the opportunities at Tyson Foods and relocated to Storm Lake. Their story of friendship began soon thereafter, when the two young girls were enrolled in the same kindergarten together.
Pastrana and Coronel both value growing up in Storm Lake, and attributed their affection for the town to its diversity, which they both acknowledged to have taken for granted until they were without it. Coronel recognized Storm Lake’s unique qualities at an early age, because her family had moved to Denison for a time before returning to Storm Lake for her freshman year in high school. Time outside of town enabled her to realize why the community stands out from other small towns in Iowa. “Everybody was so accepting and I made friends with different people from different cultures,” Coronel said. “So I think I had a pretty good experience because I never really was targeted or anything. Everybody was welcoming.”
Such experiences motivated these two friends to become more involved in the community while they were enrolled in high school. They became close in high school and were teammates on the women’s soccer team. They were also involved in other extracurricular activities like DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) and National Honor Society. Through these activities, and due to their hard work and involvement with the community, Coronel and Pastrana were presented with a scholarship opportunity from Buena Vista University. Both were the first members of their families to attend college. And both graduated from BVU earlier this month.
At BVU, they were among ten members of the Education for Service Scholars program. Through this program, they each dedicated three hundred hours or more of their time each semester to the Storm Lake community. When they first arrived on campus, they were even more than fellow Storm Lakers and EFS scholars. They were roommates.
They each expressed difficulty in their first year at BVU to acclimate to university life, and to its associated organizational tasks. Pastrana explained, “We didn’t have parents to look up to or ask how they did it while they were in college because most of our parents didn’t go to college.” Coronel also expressed her initial concerns. “Some people already had their FAFSA done and everything,” she said. “But since it was my first time ever doing anything like that, I was really worried, how I was going to find out everything about that.” However, their scholarship group and the university guided their processes and offered support with becoming accustomed to their new environment. Coronel and Pastrana acknowledged struggling to manage the new workload their respective majors carried, though both rallied to thrive in the environment and graduated on May 8, each majoring in biology.
Once kindergarten classmates, later college roommates, and now both BVU graduates, they see their professional paths likely to diverge. Pastrana will pursue a career in occupational therapy and Coronel wants to become a veterinarian.
Pastrana and Coronel stated that, as much as they love Storm Lake, they want to experience life in other places. Yet they intend to revisit their hometown whenever they can. And though their paths may take them in separate directions, their friendship remains, and the dreams of their respective families to provide a better life for their children have been fulfilled.