“I definitely want to help people and also just get better myself,” Tena said.
Growing up in Norwalk, California, Tena worked at restaurants and other odd jobs during high school to take care of her parents and younger siblings. She always considered education important, but she didn’t know what she wanted to do after graduation.
A Navy recruiter came to Santa Fe High School during her senior year and shortly thereafter she found herself as an enlisted electrician and security officer. She was in the military for nine years, stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, and Bangor, Washington. Toward the end of her naval career, however, the petty officer second class was unhappy and looking for a change.
Tena wanted to get out of the male-dominated electrical work where she was tired of the pressure to prove herself. She felt disenchanted coming back home, but after searching, she was offered a job at Navy Federal Credit Union.
During her five years at the credit union, teaching customers financial literacy — along with assisting the FBI in a money laundering case — showed her that accounting can be more than tedious spreadsheets. Tena never considered a career in finance until she was exposed to it, and now it’s her passion — one that she plans to build upon with a Whittier degree.
She chose Whittier, she said, because of the camaraderie on campus reminded her of the military, and because the John Greenleaf Whittier Scholarship made the rewarding schooling even more affordable.
“The campus is obviously lovely, and the location is great, but the relationships are super personable,” Tena said.
Tena plans to complete her associate’s degree next year and stay at Whittier for her bachelor’s before pursuing a master’s in accounting.
“I'm trying to finish all the schooling I can just because I've already put a pause on it for five years since leaving the military,” Tena said. “And once you start working full-time, that commitment to have school afterward, and kids — it becomes very limiting with what you can do.”
Outside of her studies, Tena hopes to participate in various clubs. She is passionate about a variety of subjects like horticulture, marching band, drama, and more. While enlisted, she spent countless hours volunteering in the community.
“I’m curious for school and happy to be going to school because it's been a long, long time waiting for that,” Tena said.