Food, People, and Culture: Brenda Lozano

Finals season can be one of the most stressful times of the year for college students. Those last few weeks feel like a rush to the semester’s finish line, full of sleepless, tired nights spent with endless piles of study guides, group projects, and long papers. As if finals alone weren’t challenging enough, imagine having a baby in the midst of that rush. Horticulture major Brenda Lozano did just that, adding diaper changes and feedings to the sleepless, tired nights.  

Brenda was at Durham Technical Community College when she found out she was pregnant, and shortly after, learned she was admitted to C3. Big news in a short time! As a first-generation Mexican-American, Brenda was committed to family and equally committed to her dream of earning a college degree. She wasn’t sure how she would balance her priorities, but knew that she could find a way to succeed at both. Brenda’s adorable daughter, Olivia, was not only born during her mother’s first semester at NC State, but she was born during the last two weeks of class. “I was very nervous. […] I thought my teachers might just fail me.”

She did not fail – she thrived. Brenda’s instructors, aware of Olivia’s impending arrival, reassured her that when the time came–for both her baby and the final exams–they would work around the unique circumstances. Brenda fondly recalls them saying, “We can work it out at the end […] we’ll get either your exams earlier or after, we’ll work it out.” Indeed, when the time came, Brenda’s instructors worked diligently with her. She took one exam early and the rest after labor.

Brenda admits that her second semester at NC State was a bit harder. “I’m still trying to figure out how to manage my schedule. It’s hard because it’s not my time anymore. It all depends on what Olivia needs.” Her optimism from the beginning kept Brenda moving forward with C3. “I was like, this is my opportunity to finally get into my dream school.” Although studying with a small child has proven more difficult than she imagined, Brenda couldn’t turn down the opportunity to pursue a career she describes as “regenerative to my soul.”

Brenda’s passion for horticulture is deeply rooted in her cultural experience as a Mexican American. Learning about agronomy in two different cultures has inspired Brenda to expand her dreams for the future. She is forming plans to sustainably produce food both here and in Mexico, build greenhouses on top of buildings, and create community gardens in rural areas that lack access to nutritional food.

“I think there’s so much you can do for society and for the environment through agriculture.”

In the meantime, Brenda is getting hands-on experience working in a greenhouse at NC State taking care of blueberry bushes. She’s responsible for repotting the blueberry plants and transferring seedlings to bigger pots, doing maintenance work in the greenhouse, and weeding plants in the pots. As she continues to learn and grow, Brenda hopes to someday instill in Olivia her passion for horticulture. “I’m so excited for her to learn to walk and come alongside with me outdoors. So we can also be in the soil and just be in nature.”  

Undoubtedly, to say that Brenda underwent many changes during her first year at NC State is an understatement. Having a baby while in school might be regarded as a huge obstacle, but Brenda’s found ways to balance academic success and her commitment to her family. Her biggest piece of advice to other non-traditional students: “Don’t be afraid of failure, be afraid of missing the opportunity.”

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