UTEP Celebrates First-Generation College Students
Last Updated on November 11, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Originally published November 11, 2020
By Elizabeth Ashby
The University of Texas at El Paso celebrated the successes of first-generation students Nov. 2-6, 2020, during the third annual national First-Generation College Celebration.
UTEP’s students, faculty, staff and alumni took part in virtual panels, shared stories, and recognized ways that the University’s first-generation students are achieving their dreams of attaining their degrees.
UTEP is uniquely positioned as one of the country’s premier institutions that serves first-generation students. In March 2020, the University was named to the 2020-21 cohort of First-gen Forward Institutions by the Center for First-generation Student Success. This national designation underscores UTEP’s established programming that enhances the student experience for those who come from families in which neither parent earned a four-year degree.
More than 50% of graduating UTEP seniors in 2018-19 reported that they were first-generation college graduates.
“We’re excited to highlight the successes and tell the stories of our first-generation students not only during the national First-Generation College Celebration, but throughout the year,” said Nicole Aguilar, event organizer and Student Engagement and Leadership Center director. “Many of these students have worked all through college, have children, and are involved in student organizations and other extracurricular activities. For us to take time to celebrate their journey is important to them, their families, and to every first-gen UTEP faculty and staff member who was also once in their shoes.”
Below, hear from Miners who shared their success stories and offered advice to new first-gen students. We invite you to celebrate your success stories on social media using #CelebrateFirstGen and #UTEPFirstGen.
Entries have been edited for clarity.
Share a tip for incoming first-gen students.
Stacy Huhn (Senior, Management, College of Business Administration): As a first-gen student, I’ve enjoyed being involved on campus and recommend that others do the same. Being involved on campus can completely transform your college experience. Through the groups I’ve joined, I’ve learned how to be a leader and feel prepared for my future endeavors. Minetracker is a great way to begin looking for an organization to become a part of.
Wendy Arballo (Senior, Applied Learning and Development, College of Education): Be courageous! Take every chance you get and make the best out of it. Don't be afraid to speak your mind. Show your roots and let it be known who you are and where you come from!
Sandra I. Morales (Master’s student, Latin American and Border Studies Program and Technical and Professional Writing Certificate Program, College of Liberal Arts): My advice for any first-gen student is to ASK and PARTICIPATE. Don’t be afraid to ask – you might just get what you are looking for. Participate, get out of your comfort zone, go the extra mile. You won't ever know what opportunities are waiting for you if you don’t participate.
Michael Sanchez (Doctoral student, Interdisciplinary Health Sciences): Develop good habits early on in your academic career. If you invest in a good foundation, it will really help keep you focused on your path. Always surround yourself with a good support system (can’t stress this one enough).
What was your source of motivation to go to college?
Stacy Huhn: Although my parents didn’t attend a university, they were my main motivation and encouragers to attend UTEP. Throughout my childhood, my parents would always point out the campus when we would drive by. They would always remind me that UTEP was “my school.” In my mind, I already had that UTEP pride by the age of 4. When I did attend UTEP, I felt at home and that I belonged. I am thankful to my parents for encouraging and motivating me toward getting my degree.
Wendy Arballo: My parents. My parents came to the U.S. in search of a better life. I wanted to repay them for everything they have done by graduating from a university. Because of their sacrifices, I will be able to call myself a UTEP alum.
Sandra Ivette Morales: My source of motivation was, of course, my family. I wanted to make them proud. But [what] motivated me the most were the odds that were against me. Growing up in a Hispanic home, the goal is to graduate high school and then find a full-time job to get by. The odds that were against me for being Hispanic, female, and first-generation in the U.S motivated me in many more ways than I imagined.
Michael Sanchez: I never really saw anyone in my family continue their higher education but I always found this to be deeply important to me. I always looked for opportunities to surround myself with educated people in hopes that I could continually learn from them. I can say that my want to continue into college was an intrinsic motivation, as I really didn’t have much pressure or reward influencing me from the outside. My wife and kids were also a continuous motivation for me to succeed!
How has UTEP and/or your college supported your journey so far?
Stacy Huhn: UTEP has shaped me and supported my desire to become a leader in my community. I have attended a number of conferences and events free to students by the University. Through these events I have been able to grow my leadership and personal marketing skills. There have been so many different opportunities that UTEP has provided me with and so many skills that I’ve gained. UTEP has helped me to be better than I ever thought I could be.
Wendy Arballo: UTEP and the College of Education have provided me with the opportunity to expand my horizons. The College of Education has many great professors that help facilitate the needs of their students.
Sandra I. Morales: UTEP has supported me in so many ways! UTEP has provided me the opportunities to grow individually, academically and professionally. Being a student employee at UTEP has been one of the best experiences that has and still is opening other opportunities for my future. Every individual who has been part of my academic and professional journey at UTEP has provided me with tools to reach my highest potential. I am forever grateful to my professors, supervisors, peer leaders, advisors, mentors and classmates for sharing their insight with me. Individuals like them are what make UTEP unique.
Michael Sanchez: El Paso is a great city and I believe UTEP is a reflection of all the diversity and opportunity that exists in our community. The faculty has been very proactive in guiding me to prepare me in the best way possible. The facilities and access to research equipment are like no other. There are always opportunities being offered to Miners, whether it be academically or financially.