Year in Review

Our First Scholars

It’s been a super busy year for First Generation University. After so many of you generously gave to our scholarship efforts this year we raised the most money in the four year history of fundraising. Those funds went to a wonderful student from Connecticut, and really made a difference in her being able to stay in school! Thank you again.

This year also marked the beginning of our first program. It’s been a dream to bring the academy to the community, and a partnership with the anti-poverty organization Martha’s Table made that dream come true. I met the director of the teen program, Timothy Jones at the Words, Beats, and Life annual Teach-In where he gave a presentation on hip-hop education. Timothy is a brilliant educator I’d been conversing with online, and when we realized our missions aligned a partnership was born.

In the fall I started the College Pro program on Thursdays. The first half of the academic year we worked with two seniors applying to college. Choosing which colleges to apply to, and working out fee waivers, letters of recommendation and the FAFSA were some of our biggest challenges. In the spring we focused on preparing for the first year in college and dealt with everything from study habits to dating and values.

We’re extremely proud of our two students Jamika Acevedo and Tariq Broadnax. Jamika is headed to Temple University to study biochemistry. Even more impressive is the fact that she earned over 30 thousand dollars in scholarships! Jamika’s advice is to apply for every and any scholarship you qualify for because you never know what may happen. Tariq is headed to the University of Oklahoma to study engineering. Tariq attends Benjamin Banneker Academic High School and decided to apply to the special program Banneker has with OU. Not only does OU provide an opportunity to study engineering, but is a chance for Tariq to get out and experience living in a different part of the country, which he’s very excited about.

We look forward to continuing our work this year, and hope you’ll continue to support what we do.

 

 

Minority Student at Predominantly White Institution

Being a minority student at a predominantly white institution is a situation that affects several students whether they are Black, Asian American, etc. A number of factors contribute to the composition of racial diversity on campus such as socioeconomic status, parental education level and gender. Even though most of these issues underlie the means in which the campus environment is constructed, they are farfetched to be completely controlled all at once. What can administrators do to promote racial equality or how can students “find themselves” even if they are a minority on campus? These are the questions we face every year and is an important topic that should be covered across the nation.

For many first generation students, race and cultural diversity at the university level can be an important factor. For many others it might have been an afterthought but is now a present issue once they spend more time developing during their undergraduate career. For me, it is an issue that has been more prominent in recent years as I have worked on research and explored other campus environments. Being a first generation Latino male student has placed me in a unique position in that I can take away different experiences in comparison to the largest population on the UT Austin campus: Whites.

As I am sure that other minority students can attest to, especially during their first year as undergraduates, there are instances in which we can become stereotyped or channeled into the “token” role. I remember during an outing with some of my roommate’s friends I was the only minority in the group and while driving a song in Spanish came up on the radio to which they all immediately asked me what certain words meant. This may seem a small gesture but to me it signified that they assumed the fact that because I am Mexican American I must know Spanish. Another instance was more recently in working on a group activity in class. We were discussing events from our past and when I mentioned I had frequently visited Mexico, the White male group member asked if I had ever “ridden any chivas (goats) or round up any animals.” Even though these experiences seem small, other students may have experienced more blatant accounts of racism and prejudice.

For the most part I believe minority students have not been rejected or ostracized from the mainstream population on campus. Reiterating the question of how students can find their place in a historically white university, there have been initiatives and student centers that they have access to in which they can relate to other students belonging to their culture. Along with multicultural centers, labs, fraternities and sororities minority students have the potential to find the group they feel most comfortable with and can reduce any anxiety or social problems dealt with belonging to a small population on campus.

Choosing the Right College

This post will be dedicated for those students currently deciding which college to attend. It is your senior year and you may be going over your options as to which college to attend. When deciding which university to attend always remember that “Knowing all your choices is the right choice.” There may be some members in your family persuading you to attend their alma mater or you may know a high school counselor attempting to convince you to stay in your hometown’s college. Whichever way you may be deciding there are several factors that you should take into consideration. For a first generation student the opportunity to attend college is a great start towards a promising future, thus making the right choice is a huge benefit.

Recently the White House released a college scorecard that is available for students to use in order to help them prioritize the needs they seek from an institution of higher education. The scorecard allows for students to search through a variety of colleges across the country and allows for comparisons in terms of cost, graduation rates and employment opportunities for graduates. For a first generation student this new tool serves as a great contributor towards making the decision of what college to attend. Since a first generation student does not have parents who have completed college, this decision process can make for a stressful time. However, by exploring all your options you will have a better understanding of what to look for before making your final decision.

Personally, I can remember my college search process was a completely new experience for me and my family but still one that I was very much excited about. There were a mix of emotions (excitement, fear, joy) surrounding my senior year and leading up to graduation. During this time I would look at how much it would cost to attend my first university of choice, how far the distance was between my hometown and the schools I was choosing between and also how much financial aid each school was offering me. As a first generation student I did not have the resource in my parents to show me how to fill out a FAFSA, ask about dorm-life or how to sign up for college courses. Even though many of us venture out on these steps on our own, these events serve as building blocks in creating our independent self outside of our home.

Overall, the decision making process is one that you should not feel scared or hesitant to partake in while you are still in school. Even though it may be intimidating at times to make such a life defining choice, it is all part of making the transition to the next step in your college career. Either way you would be well served to take into consideration these points and complete as much research on the college you wish to attend before you actually set foot on campus as a student.

Mike Gutierrez is a first generation undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. He is currently in the process of applying to graduate school.

Getting Entrepreneurial with Your Major

A student came in this week interested in one of the great, though struggling industries – magazine publishing. This student is quite bright and curious, but I had to caution that the publishing industry is struggling and jobs are scarce in the field. While choosing the right major is important, the student is interested in journalism, I suggested that what is more important is obtaining the right skills and standing out. The student may be able to do that through the journalism major, but that isn’t the only option.

This particular student is interested in fashion magazines. Since Sex and the City many young women dream of heading to NYC to write thrilling articles about fabric, accessories, and trends. That dream is doable, but no major alone is going to produce that result. To even land the internship that leads to that kind of job this student will need experience. She’s landed an internship for the summer, but I also stridently urged her to make a name for herself. With all of the resources on campus for funding, and the world wide web, a fashionista without clips or a web presence is doomed.

Our campus newspaper doesn’t have a fashion writer. I suggested she pitch herself. Maybe she should start a blog, or a podcast. Whatever the method one chooses for distinguishing herself she should know that employers are indeed looking for go-getters. Employers haven’t had training programs for new employees since the 1980s, and especially not in competitive fields. They want people to be ready to go on day one. This reality is not always fair because job seekers then must shoulder huge costs trying to get their foot in the door, but knowing that the market is as it is helps one to plan accordingly.

In choosing a major, and job seeking, the world is almost like seeking out a romantic partner.

  • Employers want someone interesting and different, and not just another person like the one they already have or the one they just fired. BE YOURSELF.
  • Just like a particular outfit can get you noticed on the quad, so can the great internships or experience get you noticed in a pile of resumes. If you created a job for yourself then even better! You’ve already shown leadership. Continue to amass experiences that fit your interests and the type of work you want to do.
  • There is no set formula for snagging the job. An employer likes what they like and there is no guaranteed combination of major or experience that does the trick.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Grad School for the First Generation Student

The process of applying to graduate school is a long one and varies for every student. Even though numerous graduate programs may carry different criteria they all ask similar responsibilities of the applicants. For example a student applying for law school will need to take the LSAT exam whereas a student applying for graduate school in education will need to take the GRE. A first generation student should not be deterred to apply for these programs due to the many fees associated with them. These fees may include, but are not limited to: application fees, transcript fees, travel fees and exam fees. For the most part, many entrance exams offer reduction fees and several graduate schools offer application fee waivers for students who show substantial financial need.

Another step to the graduate school application process is the use of letters of recommendation. No matter what school year you currently are know that every professor, teaching assistant or research coordinator is a resource that can be a key tool for you in the future. For example a professor that you create a strong bond with your freshman year can come as a great asset during your applications senior year. Never take for granted the use of your professor’s office hours and the ability to aid in research or assist with their projects. Creating and sustaining relationships during your undergraduate career is a vital part of the college experience. These connections will not only benefit you in the future but will allow you to spread your brand as you gain further education.

There is also a more personalized unit when it comes to graduate school applications in the form of a statement of purpose. This essay is a unique form for a student to tell their story to a program and why they should be selected. This letter will also highlight their many achievements and supplement facts to their resume. The statement of purpose is a great way for first generation students to distinguish themselves from other applicants and illustrate their passion for the program they are choosing.

First generation students most often do not have the resources other students with family members with college and graduate school experience may possess. Therefore, this student may not find a mentor within their family that they can confide in when it comes to how to succeed after graduation. Campus resources are great advantages for students who are pursuing further education after college. Many universities offer career and learning centers with professionals who are trained and educated on the successful transition from college to graduate school and the workforce.

These steps may seem insurmountable but with time and an organized strategy plan any student can complete the task. Knowing what your passion is and what drives you towards a career is a critical step when deciding to attend graduate school. Find this passion as an undergraduate and you will be successful in your endeavors after college.

Good luck!

More questions about graduate school? Leave them in the comments below!

Mike Gutierrez is a first generation undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. He is currently in the process of applying to graduate school.

Focus on the Low-Income Student

Princeton recently formed a Trustee Ad Hoc Committee on College Access, which intends to increase college access for low-income students. Should the university actually focus on access this development is wonderful news! Socioeconomic status is one of the final social spheres that we don’t want to discuss in society. If we truly want people to be able to help themselves then we as a nation must do more to support the efforts of our young people.

It is my hope that with Princeton focusing on low-income students that other universities will follow suit. It is no secret that many institutions wait to see what the Ivy League does and then drastically tries to copy it even if the ivy institution has a mission statement that is completely different than the “modifying” institution. If Princeton suddenly makes it cool to really focus on the low-income student and his or her experience, especially at the Trustee level, then perhaps the rest of the academy will take notice.

What will ultimately be key however, is whether or not these institutions care as much about the low-income pipeline as it does about the high. Universities have built huge dorms and other fancy facilities in order to attract the wealthy. Some hire all-star faculty as well. Will we see a rise in the number of faculty that represent lower income students? Lower income students tend to come from minority backgrounds, and data already shows that faculty from these backgrounds have difficulty getting hired, and when they do they aren’t promoted and tenured.

The student experience at traditional colleges is very geared to the student who has all of his or her financial obligations met, and can study freely, do undergraduate research, mingle with faculty, etc. A committee on college access has to discuss how non-traditional students can make those same opportunities available to other students.

 

Low-Income Students SHOULD Be Applying to Top Colleges

The research shows over and over again that low-income students do well at “elite” colleges. However, top schools, including the Ivies, keep stating that they do not get applications from these students even if they are highly qualified.

A recent NPR report reemphasized the problem and hypothesized that part of the issue is that low-income students in areas where there isn’t a top performing high school just aren’t being encouraged to push and apply to these schools. You can check out the report here.

In the Washington, D.C. area we have several high schools that are geared toward preparing our varied population to attend college. However, even many of these students, as our own program shows do not necessarily know how to select a list of schools to which they want to apply, and how to prepare a competitive application.

We who work with young people have to encourage them to apply to all types of colleges. Many of these schools will provide a fee waiver for the application if a student reaches out and asks. One of the problems I find is that students are afraid to ask, or do not know to whom to write. We have to teach them to craft professional emails to people in power. This is one of the first lessons we teach in our program.

Another issue is that many times those of us who went to college rely on our own experiences. We have to remember that when we attended we were working with information that was relevant at the time. Just because we didn’t like a particular institution, or it wasn’t affordable to us doesn’t mean that the young people we mentor will have the same experience.

Encourage low-income students with great grades to apply to the schools of their dreams.  The schools are waiting for them.

 

On “Constructive” Criticism

Part of my role as an advisor is to work with students interested in applying to graduate school. Graduate school is a very expensive, and time consuming proposition, and in meetings with students I am very honest about with them about the experience.

Recently, a student was not happy with my advice as evidenced by the nastygram, disguised as a thank you note, sent to my office. This student objected to me noting that her grades and grade point average were not up to the standards of the schools in which she is interested.

Sometimes the truth hurts and there is no way around the facts. For competitive doctoral programs, that often only admit 6-8 students, obtaining admission directly out of an undergraduate program with a gpa under a 3.5 and low GRE scores would take a bit of luck. There is no way to artfully explain that, nor do I think it would have been a service to the student to not be straight with her. The graduate school application process alone can cost a minimum of $500 once one considers GRE fees, application fees, and transcript request fees. Furthermore, more and more people are heading to graduate school to hide from the recession. The competition is fierce for anyone.

I’m not sure what the student expected regarding her appointment. Her complaint was that telling her the numbers for graduate school admission was not “constructive.” However, what I do know that providing sound advice, even if it isn’t what the student wants to hear is my job.I do hope that she is accepted at her schools of choice.