“Being a teacher doesn’t have to happen in a classroom setting. It can happen in a conversation, on a field trip or in a variety of different ways.”

Yoli Vega ’88 has been impacting lives at Hope College for the past 27 years, but don’t think that means she has stayed in one place. Returning to her alma mater after teaching middle school English, she recruited for admissions, worked in the Office of Multicultural Education (now the Center for Diversity and Inclusion), helped lead TRIO Upward Bound and now directs the Phelps Scholars Program, a diverse first-year living and learning community. Next year, she’ll take on a new role as a senior academic and career adviser in the Boerigter Center for Calling and Career.  Her varying career path is connected by a common theme: education for everyone.

Coming to Hope as a first-generation college student, Vega knew she wanted to be a teacher. “I was one of those kids who would line up her stuffed animals [to play school],” she said with a chuckle. When she left her job teaching middle schoolers to become a Hope College admissions representative, it might have seemed Vega’s teaching career had ended.

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It hadn’t.  Although not every role along her journey has involved standing in front of a classroom, Vega has combined her passion for teaching and her heart for first-generation college students and diverse community in every step of her career. “I didn’t realize my job was an option, that I could be doing it and enjoying coming to work, not even seeing it as work,” Vega said.

Through her range of experiences, she’s been able to see that “being a teacher doesn’t have to happen in a classroom setting. It can happen in a conversation, on a field trip or in a variety of different ways.” Currently, Vega does have the opportunity to teach in the more traditional sense. As director of the Phelps Scholars Program, she co-leads a First-Year Seminar, mentoring and guiding students as they begin their college careers.

Vega doesn’t stop mentoring and guiding students after their first year, however. Every position she’s held throughout the years has allowed her to form relationships that transcend the programs. “I appreciate the gift of extended family that comes through staying connected with students,” she said.

For so many, Vega has become much more than just their teacher. Her deep devotion to her students’ educational success and holistic well-being is clear as she encourages them beyond their comfort zones. “Seeing [students] do what they didn’t think they could do is my inspiration,” she said, reflecting on times she had also been encouraged to reach beyond her own self-doubt. And that’s a message Vega has aimed to send loud and clear to her students of all capacities: You’re able to accomplish things you don’t believe you can.