Not many students pack a stethoscope for their freshman year in college. But Enrique Rocha did. It was a special gift for the nursing major from his aunt in Mexico, who recently retired from nursing.

Just 24 hours after arriving on campus, Rocha was feeling the excitement, and anxiety, of being on his own for the first time. Although he wasn’t sure if his mom cried when she left her first-born here, he’s pretty sure she did because of how quickly she turned away. As the first generation in his family to go to college, he feels a big responsibility. Before he left his Elgin home, he got a call from his Mexican grandparents.

“They said, ‘Make sure you make us proud.’ I have a responsibility to do everything by myself now, and to do it well,” he said.

Rocha’s parents are from Mexico. Health issues in the family have made him feel helpless at times, and with an aptitude for the sciences, he decided to enroll in Mennonite College of Nursing, with hopes of possibly going to medical school someday.

“A lot of people in my family have been sick,” he said. “I wanted to help them but I couldn’t. I told myself I would when I was older.”

Although he visited other universities with nursing schools, after seeing Illinois State University, “I was blown away. I liked the campus so much. It’s a great city and I really liked the Quad, all the trees, how green it was. My parents really liked it too.”

Rocha was surprised to get a follow-up call from the Office of Admissions, and to be invited back for a presentation done entirely in Spanish.

“When I graduate, I hope to leave here with new friends and long-lasting relationships.”

Since he’ll be paying for college through student loans, affordability was also a factor. Knowing Illinois State is ranked as one of the best values in public universities in the country helped with his decision.

“I saw some other colleges that were twice what ISU cost and I wasn’t really liking those numbers,” he said.

On his second day on campus, he was headed to see a Redbird soccer scrimmage. He’d like to play intramural soccer and basketball, and hopes to find a place to practice Muay Tai, a martial arts sport.

Coming from a predominately white high school, the bilingual freshman was impressed with the diversity on campus. About 25 percent of the freshman class comes from underrepresented groups. There’s another part of the campus culture that made an equally big impression – Midwestern hospitality.

“Everybody is so friendly,” he said. “When I graduate, I hope to leave here with new friends and long-lasting relationships.”

Rocha is one of five new Redbirds featured this week on Meet our other freshmen:

Apply now for fall or spring 2017, or set up a visit to our campus.

Kate Arthur can be reached at