From inspired to inspiring

Natalie Vega-Finn’s journey to a rewarding career

When Natalie Vega-Finn walked across the stage to receive her master’s degree in 2021, she did so as a daughter, mother, wife and a full-time employee at Indiana University Northwest. She had tucked her eyes behind sunglasses, not so much in defense of the day’s sunny rays, but rather to camouflage the fact they were brimming with tears.

A native of Hammond, Indiana, Vega-Finn graduated with a B.A. in psychology from IU Northwest in 1998. Certain that she was going to be a clinical therapist, she moved to Chicago to earn a master’s in clinical counseling. After completing 45 credit hours of coursework and 1,000 internship hours, she realized that the counseling field was not a good fit and stopped pursuing her graduate degree.

“In hindsight, I kick myself for not finishing. I should have finished the degree and pursued something else career-wise, but I didn’t. Instead, I was hired at the organization where I completed my internship hours, a non-profit social services organization that provided support for adults with intellectual disabilities and mental illness,” Vega-Finn said. “Even though I didn’t want to be a therapist, I knew I still wanted to be in some kind of helping profession.”

After returning to Northwest Indiana to start a family and having two daughters — Hazel and Violet — Vega-Finn applied for an administrative assistant role with the Department of Biology at IU Northwest. In time, Vega-Finn transferred her skillset and became an academic advisor for the Departments of Psychology and Biology.

Inspired by her father

Vega-Finn’s father, who passed away unexpectedly in 2013, had instilled in her the importance of education, and her decision to return to graduate school was largely inspired by his death.

Wanting to inspire the same respect for education in her daughters, she returned to school in 2017 to finish what she had started: a master’s degree. She took one class every semester until she finally accomplished what she set out to do nearly two decades earlier by earning a master’s degree in liberal studies.

“My dad always stressed the importance of education,” Vega-Finn said. “He went into the military so that he could afford college, and he persisted in a roundabout way. It took him a while, but he did earn his degree.”

In 2021, Vega-Finn was presented with another professional growth opportunity at IU Northwest. Her master’s degree, paired with her advising experience, made her the perfect fit to be named the campus' Director of Academic Advising.

In much the way her father inspired her, Vega-Finn seems to be inspiring her daughters, ages 8 and 10. When the pandemic finally receded enough for an in-person Commencement in May 2021, guests were not permitted into the event. After pulling both daughters from e-learning classes, Vega-Finn’s husband Brandon captured the girls cheering on their mom during the Commencement Day livestream.

And just as her father taught her, Vega-Finn hopes to share with her daughters the importance of education. If nothing else, she hopes that her perseverance taught her daughters about persistence and recognizing that it’s never too late to chase your dreams.

“Even if it’s not the way you thought you’d make it,” Vega-Finn said, “there’s another path for you, and figuring that out means you’re inching your way forward.”