Moises Urena

Being There for Others

By Margaret Hartley
Moises Urena smiles for a photo in front of the Carillon and the main fountain
Once homeless and uninterested in studies, Moises Urena turned his life around with a commitment to education and helping people. Patrick Dodson

Moises Urena, a former peer leader at the American Sign Language High School in downtown Manhattan, aspires to work in higher education one day. And proudly watching his progress through college is a young fan: his 9-year-old sister, Abbygail. 

Urena, a 20-year-old junior in the School of Education, noted that Abbygail “is into the arts. She says she wants to be like me and come to UAlbany.”

The New York Times has also taken an interest in Urena; the paper shared his story in an opinion piece published in the Oct. 2, 2018 edition. When told he might be interviewed for the newspaper, Urena recalled, “I was at a loss for words. I did not know people were actually paying attention to the work that I have been putting in and it made me feel better ... that I am making a difference.”

For Urena, who’s majoring in human development, going to college wasn’t an obvious choice. He was homeless for a time during high school and, until his junior year there, a disengaged student. That’s when he attended a program through PeerForward, a national non-profit organization that promotes high-school success through peer mentoring. 

After spending two summers as an orientation leader with the University at Albany’s Division of Student Affairs, Urena continues his mentoring role in a more informal way: He finds that other students seek him out for information and guidance – or just to vent. “I myself have a few mentors on campus and always confide in them when I need help,” he said. His mentors include Claudio Gomez, Ekow King, Sari Khatib, Keith Nunez, Maritza Martinez, Ashley Walker, Robert Peguero, Alfredo Medina, Noah Simon, Marykay Skrabalak, “and many more.” Adds Urena: “They guide me in the right direction and give me the feeling that they actually care and want to see me succeed. I don’t feel I’m talking to an administrator, but more to a family member, and I hold that dear to my heart.” 

Urena is planning a career in higher education. He also wants to ensure that disadvantaged kids succeed in life.

“In five or 10 years, I see myself as an administrator at a university while also running a mentoring and tutoring non-profit to help students in low-income communities,” Urena said. “I want to help make a difference in their lives and hopefully send them off to college. I want to do this because I know how it feels to be homeless and have someone actually care for you and watch out for you. I want to be that for someone else.”

In addition to Abbygail, Urena has a sister, Anjinette, attending community college in Rochester. His older brother, William, graduated from UAlbany in 2016 with a degree in sociology. 

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