Presidential scholarship recipient happy path led her to Wallace State

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Photo: Cierra Barrios speaks at the open house for the new Oneonta campus center in Blount County.


HANCEVILLE –  Several times in her life, situations beyond her control have put Cierra Barrios on a different path that what she may have preferred. Growing up near New Orleans, she and her family survived the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, only to move away four years later when their surroundings became too dangerous. The family moved to the rural town of Cleveland, Alabama, where her grandmother lived before she passed away.

“It was hard moving to a new place, especially with no family or friends around,” said Barrios, who had to leave the only school she’d ever attended.

But Barrios adapted. She became active in her new school, participating in sports and clubs. She maintained a 4.0 GPA and was looking forward to going off to a university.

Unfortunately, her youngest sister became seriously ill and the family was faced with medical bills that ate into their budget.

“As I prepared for looking at colleges, I was very limited because I knew my family could not afford to send me off to college,” Barrios said. “After trying to decide what to do or where to go, I confidently chose Wallace State, which is one of the best decisions I have ever made for my education. I told myself that if I made good grades and always stayed passionate about school that I could graduate from Wallace and hopefully colleges would see my hard work and I could go on to a university later on.”

Those efforts have paid off, as Barrios was selected to receive the University of Alabama Presidential Transfer Scholarship. She will study Hotel Tourism Management.

“I’m so happy I chose Wallace State,” Barrios said. “I met some of my best friends here and I really found myself when I came here and found what I wanted to do.”

Though she knew she wanted a career that would offer her the opportunity to travel and improve her foreign language skills, she narrowed down her selection to tourism. “My success coach, Jill Strickland, she helped me a lot,” Barrios said. “I love her. I still visit her a lot, even though after your first year, you don’t have the success coach. I still visit her to this day.”

Wallace State celebrated commencement on Friday, May 13. For more information, visit