Part of college is finding what it is that “makes you tick.”
The video below is an insight of what makes four first-generation students tick. They’re in college not only to pursue a higher education that their parents couldn’t but also to find a career that they will enjoy. I asked each of them what it is that makes them tick about their career path relating to their major. Each described what it is that makes them “tick.”
Merriam Webster defines a support group as, “a group of people who have similar experiences and concerns and who meet in order to provide emotional help, advice, and encouragement for one another.” Cal Poly’s Counseling Services offers support groups for students with different types of concerns. A support group that is offered to students is the “First-Generation College Students Support Group.”
If you’ve read the “About” section on this blog you know that I myself am a first-generation and low-income college student.
A goal of mine for this blog is to focus on the experiences of other students on each post but this post will be an exception because as a change I will be talking about my experience. I will touch on several past posts and add how I personally relate to the topic.
Going away from home for the first time is a big step in life. It takes a good reason to do it. For first-generation students and many other college students that reason is college. Some students choose to stay close and go to college near their home or commute. But others have to travel miles to a new city with new people, places and surroundings. It is saying goodbye to everything they have ever known. But it’s worth it because they are going away to pursue and education.
Going away to college is a big step for anyone. It means shedding out of your comfort zone and being exposed to new surroundings. It hits harder being a first-generation student because our parents are not able to guide us through the process.
First-generation students in the Educational Opportunity Program at Cal Poly are given the opportunity to attend a program called Summer Institute. It usually runs through the end of July to the middle of August. They stay in on-campus apartments, take a General Education course and attend supplemental workshops. The program also includes activities that helps them get familiar with San Luis Obispo. The program is held every summer. This last summer, 89 incoming EOP freshmen got to attend. The 2013 program ran from July 27 – August 20th. This year’s theme was DC superheroes with the motto being “Made of Steel.” The Summer Institute Program Coordinator and Program Assistants are in charge of the program.
“The purpose of Summer Institute is to help out students transition to college,” Jon Diaz, Summer Institute Program Assistant said.
The college application season is always a busy and nerve wrecking one. Deadline after deadline and essay after essay have to be done. It is a lot of work and responsibility. First-generation students do not have a big help system at home because they are the first in their family to go to college. Unlike second or third generation students, their parents do not know what the application process is like. Which can cause the students to struggle with the application process and have to rely on outside help.
“The college application process can be ambiguous and scary. These students don’t have parents that are helping them read through all the fine print and multiple number of documents and emails that are coming their way,” Maria Arvizu-Rodriguez, a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Educational Opportunity Program counselor said.
Q&A with Cal Poly SLO First-Generation Students
How was the college application process like for you?
What was the support and/or resources that you had?
What is your advice for students who will be the first in their family?
Alvaro Perez, First-Year, Aerospace Engineering major
“My parents didn’t know there was such thing as going through the college application process. They didn’t know you had to apply for financial aid or just how college works. Once I got acceptance letters my parents tried to convince me to stay in Sacramento. They didn’t understand why I wanted to go five hours away to San Luis Obispo.”
“I was in programs in high school that helped first-generation students apply to college, fill out the applications and the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). My brothers and sisters were a big support. My counselor would have workshops once a week since the beginning of my senior year during a one hour slot time. I didn’t do it at home because I didn’t know what to do, how to write it or what they were actually asking for.”
“Apply everywhere, don’t let the college application process scare you away. Just apply to where you want to go. If you really want to do it, then do it. Look for resources cause there is at least one program that will help first generation students with the application process.”
Magali Silva, First-Year, Economics major
“My mom would throw away my college mail. My parents think it’s a waste of time for me to come to college. They think I should be working and supporting them.”
“My avid teacher would make me do my college applications homework style. I started the college application process my junior year and I applied to nine colleges. Family wise the only support I have is my brother, he is the only that wants me to be here. My avid teacher and my brother were my main support.”
“Don’t care about other people’s opinions. It’s your life, you’re going to have to deal with it and they are going to get over it eventually. So if you want to go to college, go to college.”
Rachel Scales, First-Year, Modern Languages and Literatures major
“I had no idea what made a school a good fit or a bad fit, or how to go about applying for financial aid, or what to do as a major. Like, nobody knows how to do this, and you’re trying to crack the code.”
“I contacted the schools I was interested in, like, ten times a week with questions. A couple of the schools actually started knowing me. For financial aid help, my social worker hooked me up with the Independent Living Skills Program (ILSP) in San Francisco, and they were fantastic. They helped me find scholarships, and they’d go over scholarship essays with me, and they helped me do the FAFSA.”
“Don’t be deterred from applying to certain schools. It’s not as hard to get into schools as you think. I thought I wouldn’t get in to half my schools. Apply to schools you don’t think you’ll get in to. Pretty much every school has fee waivers available, too, so no worries.”
Once the college application season is over, the time comes to choose where to go. These students chose Cal Poly SLO. The transition can be difficult because it is a very unfamiliar territory.
Arvizu-Rodriguez recommends support programs similar to the Summer Institute program at Cal Poly that provide transition assistant from the minute they are admitted till the end of their first year.
The opportunities and the help is out there for first-generation college students. It is a matter of finding it and doing what is best for them.
On Saturday January 11, 2014, Cal Poly MEXA, hosted its annual Xicano Youth Conference. Each year the conference welcomes first-generation underrepresented high school students, counselors and parents to spend the day at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, learn from workshops and interact with current first-generation college students.
“Often times these students don’t have a role model to follow and that might discourage them from considering a higher education as an option,” XYC Coordinator Jessica Ordonez said.
The workshops touch on topics that help the high school students learn of the different opportunities and possibilities available to them. First-generation students can see college as a stretch due to struggles in school and financial issues like Skyler Lopez did when he was a senior at Taft High School in Lincoln City, Oregon.
Students from high schools in Bakersfield, Santa Maria, Paso Robles and Ventura attended the conference.
The theme for this year’s conference was “We Have a Dream.” Students were able to write their goals or dreams on a whiteboard and take a picture with it.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Jose Navarro, an Assistant Professor in the English Department at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
“Dreams stay in the imagination if you don’t start to plan, when you start to plan, dreams turn into goals,” Navarro told students. “Dreams require to imagine, to imagine potential.”
The students then attended three out of the nine workshops:
College Survival 101
Educational Opportunity Program 101
You are the environment
Positive Discipline for Parents
Is college your next step?
Personal Statement/Scholarship Essay Writing
Current first-generation Cal Poly SLO students also gave the students a guided tour of the campus.
Benito Salas is currently a senior at East Bakersfield High School and has just finished applying to colleges.
“I would like to get accepted to Fresno State or San Diego State because they have good Criminal Justice programs and that is what I plan on majoring in,” Salas said.
He would like to be part of the California Highway Patrol.
“I’ve been on the road with my dad, who’s a truck driver, I’ve seen how it was and it kind of interested me at first and the more I researched about it the more it hit me,” Salas said.
Sandra Garcia a student from Paso Robles High School already has in mind what she is
looking for in a college.
“I’m planning to be the first to graduate in my family and I want to attend a smaller college than Fresno State and stay close to my family. I like Cal Poly SLO and I would like to study something in agriculture,” Garcia said.
Being first-generation influences the goals of Esmeralda Cruz, a student from East Bakersfield High School.
“Being a first-generation inspires me even more and it’s a lot of pressure on me. I know that it will make my family proud. Also would make my mom extremely proud for me to go further in life and not let anything stop me from doing what I need to do to be successful. It also inspires me to be a good role model for my brother and my cousins that look up to me,” Cruz said.
Ruben Tellez, a student from East Bakersfield High School, hopes to attend Cal Poly SLO. “On the Internet, I’ve researched Cal Poly and it’s a great school for me,” Tellez said. He would like to major in engineering and/or architecture.
“I think that education is the only way to get ahead in life,” Ordonez said. “By putting on these type of events, we hope to make higher education a more realistic dream for underrepresented students.”
I am currently a first-generation college student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The stories featured here will have insight from other first-generation college students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The stories will also include a persepective from faculty who are familiar with the struggles of first-generation college students and support those on campus.
Keep checking in every week to see how the college experience is different for those who are first in the family.