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  • Writer's pictureShirley Arriaga


From left, Rosa Sanchez-Santiago, Shirley Arriaga and Lidya Rivera-Early.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Springfield Technical Community College helped launch Shirley Arriaga dreams.

Arriaga ‘15, a political newcomer who in September won the Democratic nomination for state representative (8th Hampden District), returned to her alma mater on Oct. 12 to speak as part of the “We the Women” series, which celebrates achievements by female leaders.

“I am a planner, so education was always a top priority for me,” Arriaga said. “I planned to graduate high school, go to college, join the military and build my network and pursue a career in politics so I can help the greater good.”

Speaking to an audience in the Student Learning Commons Forum, Arriaga said her educational journey started at STCC.

Shirley Arriaga

“It has taken me very far, and I am not done yet,” she said. “I take (education) seriously and I hope I can inspire others to invest in themselves.”

Raised in Chicopee by a single mother, Arriaga shared her story during the event moderated by Rosa Sanchez-Santiago, community outreach counselor at STCC and an alumna. Arriaga, a first-generation college student, is an educator and an Air Force veteran.

While serving in the Air Force, she completed a bachelor’s at Elms College. She secured a full-time position as Veterans Liaison for Congressman Richard E. Neal. After several years of aiding constituents, she decided to further her education to continue serving her community in a greater capacity. At 29, she enrolled at Western New England School of law.

Director of Community Engagement Lidya Rivera-Early called Arriaga a trailblazer who is helping to improve the community.

“We were delighted that Shirley Arriaga spoke at STCC to our students, faculty and staff as well as the general public,” Rivera-Early said. “She was the first to speak in person since we started hosting the series two and a half years ago. She is a dynamic Latina and vital member of our community. We were excited she joined us as part of our Hispanic Heritage Month.”

During the event, Arriaga spoke about being a woman in the male-dominated military. Outside of the military, she recalled a time she faced prejudice as a Hispanic woman. When knocking on doors while on the campaign trail, she encountered a person who made a prejudice comment based on the way she looks.

“As females, or as the minority in your field … we have to show we’re equals, we’re capable and we’re willing, and we sometimes need to stand up for ourselves and not let others intimidate us because they will intimidate you if they can,” she said. “It makes you dig in deeper into your character and stand up for yourself.”

As females, or as the minority in your field … we have to show we’re equals, we’re capable and we’re willing, and we sometimes need to stand up for ourselves and not let others intimidate us because they will intimidate you if they can.Shirley Arriaga, STCC Class of 2015

Asked what her most defining moment in her career so far has been, Arriaga noted she has achieved many milestones over the last couple of years.

“Most recently, I won the Democratic nomination for state representative, 8th Hampden District, making me the first Hispanic female to even hold this position,” she said. “It’s incredible. It’s historic in nature.”

But the achievement she might be most proud of in her career happened while in the Air Force. She completed “SERE” school (survival, evasion, resistance and escape training).

SERE school trains aircrew members to survive no matter where they land. They learn several skills, including basic survival.

“You go through a lot,” she said. “You become a prisoner of war. They teach you tactics. They try to break you, and sometimes they do break you. And that is tough, seeing grown men crying, grown men broken. And I say ‘men’ not because I’m being sexist, as I was the only female in my element.

“I still get emotional over it. When I completed that training, and they raised the U.S. flag, and they said, ‘You made it. Now you have wings. No one can take those wings from you,’” she said. “It was one of the biggest moments in my career.”

Arriaga highlighted the qualities she believes are important to inspire others: “Be honest and sincere,” she said.

“We all can tell when someone is being genuine and someone is not,” she said.

“If you can be who you are and you can inspire somebody to improve themselves, change themselves, believe in themselves, then we’re winning.”

“We the Women” series continues Nov. 9 with a talk by Jacqueline M. Johnson, Ed.D. She is the chief operations officer of Caring Health Center, which serves the state’s largest refugee community.

For more information about the series, contact Director of Community Engagement Lidya Rivera-Early at or (413) 755-4787.

Interested in applying to STCC? Visit or call Admissions at (413) 755-3333.

About Springfield Technical Community College

STCC, the Commonwealth's only technical community college, continues the pioneering legacy of the Springfield Armory with comprehensive and technical education in manufacturing, STEM, healthcare, business, social services, and the liberal arts. STCC's highly regarded workforce, certificate, degree, and transfer programs are the most affordable in Springfield and provide unequaled opportunity for the vitality of Western Massachusetts. Founded in 1967, the college – a designated Hispanic Serving Institution – seeks to close achievement gaps among students who traditionally face societal barriers. STCC supports students as they transform their lives through intellectual, cultural, and economic engagement while becoming thoughtful, committed and socially responsible graduates.


Jim Danko, (413) 755-4812,

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