Being A First Generation Student Comes With Hurdles

Author: Vanesa Contreras Rodriguez - Summer Intern

July 1, 2016

Vanesa Contreras Rodríguez is a student at Arizona State University, studying entrepreneurship in the W.P. Carey School of Business.  As a student who is passionately committed to her community, she is interning here at Helios for the summer.  She is working with our Community Investment Center of Excellence providing her knowledge and expertise to help strategize how to ensure more Latino students are prepared for success in college and career and ultimately, graduate with a postsecondary degree.  We asked Vanesa to share her thoughts with us.  The following is the first in a series of articles that Vanesa will be contributing to the Helios blog.

I am the daughter of two Mexican immigrant parents and am immigrant myself. From the age of 5, I have called this land of endless opportunities my home. Assimilating and welcoming both cultures has not been an easy task. There have  been numerous challenges I have faced, each providing me with an opportunity for growth. Overcoming each obstacle has been a step forward in the right direction. My name is Vanesa and I am a proud, resilient first-generation college student.

My journey is not some elaborate, forbidden fruit, type of story. From childhood, my very strict and stern parents engraved the notion of obtaining a college education inside the minds of my siblings and me, little did they know it was going to take much more than exchanged conversations to get this gal into college.

You see, as much as my parents preached about going to college, their waterfall of knowledge was bleak and dry. Neither have had past experiences with the American education system, leaving them with nothing short of assumptions and generalizations. My eldest brother, Jesus, was the first up. Coming in blindsided and underprepared, he struggled and succeeded, creating a pathway for me.

After my initial first steps into considering college, not just because my parents mandated it from me, was when I saw a whole new world. A world where you create your future and no one can dictate the direction in which you steer. A world where no matter your cultural background, income bracket, or living situation, you learn alongside future leaders. 

I came upon this realization during my sophomore year in high school and sought out resources in order to prepare myself for the process of getting into college. From seeking a mentor, Ms. Sanchez, who went above and beyond her duties as an educator to prepare me for life after high school to guidance counselors and organizations that helped develop my resume in order to compete against other applicants for monetary scholarship programs, I called on every resource I could. Education no longer seemed like a burden, but a privilege, a privilege of which I would take full advantage.

Fast-forward a couple years, I am now entering my second year as a student at Arizona State University pursuing an entrepreneurial degree from the W. P. Carey School of Business. My first year has been a lesson to prioritize my education while balancing professional development and community involvement. Focusing solely on school is not enough, building the necessary skills to be a successful professional along with connecting and giving back to my community is what I continuously strive and do.

If you were to have asked me what I wanted to be 4 years ago, I would have told you “I want to be a chef” because of my love for the culinary arts. If you ask me now, I would say, “I want to be a business woman who embodies the struggle Latinos have endured all the while promoting and celebrating their successes and continual growth, utilizing my academic and cultural background to instill change within the community.” Why? Seeing the lack of individuals advocating for the Latino journey and achievement has inspired me to dedicate my career to making a positive change. What specifically do I strive to become? That is an unknown to you and me, but an uncertainty I patiently await to unravel.

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