When I discovered “Project 1st Gen in Student Affairs,” I knew I had to share my experience. In hindsight, I never realized what it meant to be a first-generation college student. I failed to realize that as a low-income, first-generation American, first in the family to go to college I would face a variety of challenges that many other students wouldn’t have to. I just thought everyone was having a hard time navigate the system and get accustomed to a new environment. I didn’t appreciate my experience as a first-gen student until I reflected on it as a graduate student at San Diego State University in their Student Affairs program.
Two anecdotes about my experience and how they impacted my decision to work in higher education.
1. Growing up I always thought I was going to USC, not because I was a Trojan fan or loved the cardinal and gold colors, but because I thought it was the University for Southern California. As a kid, I grew up thinking I would go to USC because it was the school where all the students from southern California would go. It wasn’t until 10th grade in high school I realized there were hundreds of schools in California to attend.
2. After all was said and done, I chose to attend Cal State Fullerton, the local CSU for my area. I remember driving to the school for orientation with my family. As we left our home in Anaheim which was 15 minutes away from the school. Half way into the commute my dad pulled into a parking lot and said, “were should we park?”…I asked, “why are you parking here, this is Fullerton College?” Being the first to go to college was also a strong reminder that my family was unaware of the higher education system in the United States. My family assumed that Fullerton College (a community college) and Cal State Fullerton (a CSU campus) were the same.
There are many stories like this that make wonder how I ever made it through HS and into college. My answer: Upward Bound Math & Science. That is the reason why I felt prepared to go to college. Between the academic enrichment and Summer Bridge, I was already a Titan! As an undergraduate I hated meeting with my SSS counselor, having to go to community dinners, and needing to turn in progress reports in the middle of the semester. But now thank Upward Bound and SSS every day for the opportunities I was afforded.
I entered my graduate program in 2008, with a determination to learn everything about outreach, access, and equity to better serve low-income, first-generation students like myself. I interned with the Educational Opportunity Program, I had a graduate assistantship with an institutional college preparation program. All of my work in graduate school was dedicated to paying it forward. To help others in the community, as I had been helped.
Because of these experiences and more, I am a firm believer that higher education is one of the greatest transformative institutions we have in our Society. I am a first-generation college graduate and it took a community of supporters to achieve it! As an Admissions Counselor, I dedicate my work to helping first-generation students explore opportunities in higher education, and be empowered to attend college and thrive!