Deciding whether to attend graduate school can be a complex process, filled with uncertainty. For Fabio Yataco, the idea of continuing his education toward a master’s degree was riddled with doubt.
“I initially second-guessed myself,” he admits. “I was unfamiliar with the application process, unsure of my ability, and unaware of how I would pay for school.”
He had worked in the public sector and wanted to stay in that space, but he knew he needed to expand his skills if he wanted to take a holistic approach in addressing issues in society. In the end, Fabio’s ambition and desire to grow were greater than the unknowns he faced.
“I wanted to challenge myself, broaden my horizons, and enhance my knowledge,” he says. “I chose to pursue my Master of Public Affairs in Public Management degree because I believed it would allow me to further develop my skills in strategizing, leading, and cross-sector collaboration.”
Yet Fabio says his decision to enter graduate school was also about making his family and community proud. He’s about to become the first in his family to earn a graduate degree. The importance of this achievement isn’t lost on him. In fact, he’s used it as motivation throughout his academic career.
“My goals and aspirations stem from the sacrifices of not only my parents but all who came before me,” he says. “They are the foundation upon my success and my motivation to break the chains of societal expectations. As a Latino and first-generation graduate student, I feel a sense of responsibility to take all that I have learned and use it to bring about much-needed change, to continue to pave the way for the generations to come, and to invest in others so they can do the same for someone else one day.”
Fabio says he made the decision to pursue a graduate degree so that he could continue to affect change in a variety of ways—something his father instilled in him as a child.
“At my core, I have a passion for people, building community, and working alongside one another to holistically address systemic issues,’ he explains. “Growing up my father would tell me ‘If you use your skills for good you can really make a difference.’ This saying has stuck with me throughout my life and is the underlying reason I chose a different path for myself.”
During his time with O’Neill, Fabio has taken on many projects. As he thinks back to his most memorable work, he recalls a project with O’Neill’s Dr. Cullen Merritt. He and his classmates spent the semester creating a strategic plan for a nonprofit just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
This opportunity allowed Fabio and his classmates to get a glimpse inside how nonprofits were managing the pandemic and why strategizing for the future would be key.
COVID also presented challenges for Fabio, ones that were compounded by civic engagement responsibilities and social unrest in the summer of 2020. Like so many others, it took him time to find the right balance between his education, work, community, and personal life.
“I found myself trying to help in any way that I could but also spreading myself too thin,” he admits. “After a few months, I realized I needed to recenter myself and really think about where I could be most effective while refocusing on my responsibilities and self-care.”
Even amid finding that balance, Fabio never strayed from his core values of helping others to make a better world. His efforts earned him not only a spot among IUPUI’s Elite 50 graduate students but also on the university’s Premiere 10 list of grad students.
“It really is difficult to put into words the emotions I felt when I found out,” Fabio says. “I was ecstatic and beyond proud of myself for this achievement. I was also filled with gratitude and grace as I reflected on my journey. I thought of everyone who—in some way—had impacted my life and guided my growth. I thought back to the many sacrifices my parents made for me to be here today and of all the hardships we’ve had to overcome. It truly is a feeling of accomplishment that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Fabio says he doesn’t yet know exactly what his future will hold but his eyes are set on influencing change and challenging the systems and policies that affect underrepresented communities.
“Through service and advocacy, intentional partnerships, and accountability, I believe we can begin to make lasting and sustainable changes,” he says.