Aspiring teachers bond through personal challenges, excitement for education

November 21, 2016

Written by Marisa LaBello   |  Photo by Craig Schreiner

NontradUW-Whitewater students Rocio Aburto, left, and Adelaida Sisk work together in the "Non-Trad Pad" for nontraditional students in the University Center on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016.


Adelaida Sisk looks across the table as she has coffee with mentee and friend Rocio Aburto.

She can't help but smile. Maybe it's the glasses, short, curly hair or her obvious excitement for education. Sisk feels as if she is looking at a younger version of herself.

As mothers, Latinas, paraprofessionals and aspiring teachers, the two women share a special bond.

In addition to similar identifiers, both women are nontraditional students. Sisk, 54, and Aburto, 37 are two out of nearly 900 nontraditional students age 25 or older at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater who are on a quest to pursue their goals and dreams while balancing other facets of life.

Sisk has guided Aburto through her transition to UW-Whitewater by serving as a mentor figure. From class advice to resource help, Aburto, a mother of five, is able to balance a busy life. With Sisk to turn to for help, she never feels alone.

"She is always there for me," Aburto said. "Having someone like her on campus has made a big impact."

Sisk says the support she gives Aburto is the least she can do in return for the guidance she received during her first year at UW-Whitewater. She was ready to reciprocate.

Originally from Puerto Rico, Sisk came to Wisconsin at age eight with limited English. Despite being told she would never attend college, Sisk beat the odds and found a passion for teaching when she started working as a Spanish-speaking paraprofessional at the School District of Beloit.

Serving in this role helped Sisk discover her desire for her own classroom.

"It wasn't enough to just help, I wanted to be fully exposed to the classroom setting after seeing the difference I could make," Sisk said.

To achieve her goal, Sisk received her associate degree and realized her ability to excel academically. From there, she knew UW-Whitewater was the perfect fit for her to finish her education.

"At first, my transition to Whitewater was difficult and overwhelming as I was balancing the stress as a mom and student," Sisk said. "I turned to support from director of adult learning, Lynn Smith, and other nontraditional students responded with resources and advice."

Smith watched Sisk grow as a Warhawk and knew she would be the perfect role model for Aburto, who is originally from Mexico City.

"Not only do nontraditional students contribute to the campus classroom, but they really know how to give back, stay connected and help each other," Smith said.

Sisk and Aburto casually met in the University Bookstore while searching for textbooks and were formally introduced by Smith when their mentorship was initiated.

"Between our excitement for teaching and understanding the difficult balance as mom and student, we immediately clicked," Sisk said.

Sisk guides Aburto around campus, informs her about study resources and the two support each other through their elementary education courses. With less than two years left before graduation, both women are anxious to use their degrees in the classroom.

"I don't know where I will end up teaching, but I know I will be happy," Sisk said.

In her time left at UW-Whitewater, Aburto plans to continue the chain of kindness on campus. She looks forward to helping a student the way Sisk has helped her.

"I'm ready to do the same for someone else."