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May WIU Graduate Becomes Youngest Latina Alumna in School History

June 8, 2021


MACOMB, IL – When Esmeralda Portillo crossed the commencement stage in May, at age 19, she became the youngest Latina woman to graduate from Western Illinois University in its history.

Portillo, of Chicago Heights, IL, received her degree in Law Enforcement and Justice Administration (LEJA) during the University's Commencement weekend May 14-16. Although age requirements to work for police departments prevent her from applying for a career position yet, since graduation she has been working as a records clerk at the Harvey (IL) Police Department. She will begin work toward a master's degree in Fall 2021 at Michigan State University.

As Portillo was making her way through her high school years, she was also taking classes at her local community college. She graduated from both her high school and community college in 2019, at age 17. She received her associate's degree in information technology-networking.

"I knew since my early teenage years that I wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement; however, my only issue was I didn't know exactly where," she said. "I was stuck between wanting to travel and wanting to stay close to home. It wasn't until I was explaining my frustrations to my counselor and he immediately suggested WIU."

Portillo began researching her options at Western and learned the University has an "amazing law enforcement program," which led to her application for admission and a visit to Macomb for a tour.

"After I toured the campus I immediately felt like WIU was the school for me," she said.

Portillo's research interests include how the criminal justice system can be more effective and how social relations within society impact criminal behavior. She hopes to eventually become a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

During her time at WIU, Portillo said her passion for criminal justice was enhanced by her experience with WIU's professors, who are former police officers, legal professionals, judges and attorneys.

"I felt like I was learning through their experiences, and listening to their stories and experiences in the field, made my passion grow stronger," she said. "Every professor is different, as well as every class."

At Western, Portillo served as an ambassador for the Multicultural Center, the pillars of which matched well with her professional interests in social justice.

For more information about WIU's School of LEJA, visit wiu.edu/LEJA.

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil, University Relations
Phone: (309) 298-1993 * Fax: (309) 298-1606