The Struggle is Real…Being a First-Generation College Student in STEM

Blog post written by The Wisest Women Digital Marketing Intern, Caroline Romo.

“That is why Hispanic people are failures”. Those were the words told to my mother when I was in elementary school for not having placed me in ESL classes. This teacher had no justification or reasoning for why I was to be put in ESL classes. I understood, spoke, and wrote English very well at a very young age and was even placed in the gifted and talented program, which was why my mother was defiant against my placement in ESL courses. Initially, I did not think much of this incident, but it was an initial indicator that my educational and life journey would not be easy. As a first generation student, I have experienced several hardships ranging from being told to “return where [I] came from” to applying to college on my own, but they have served as motivational reminders to work hard towards reaching all my academic and life goals.

I learned at a young age to value education as a result of it being the one thing my parents were unable to receive. Even as an elementary student, I was certain that I wanted to attend a 4-year college, but the process of applying for college was not as easy as simply saying, “ I would like to go to college”. Since neither of my parents were familiar with the college experience, much less the process of applying to college, I was entirely responsible for finding the resources and information necessary to apply such as: deadlines, fees, tuition, room and board, information to include in my personal statements, the scores necessary for the national college admissions exams, how to fill out FAFSA, and much more . Additionally, I recall having a difficult time deciding what major to choose because I did not know whether a career in STEM, such as biology, would be a reasonable option. I have had a strong passion for STEM and medically inclined sciences such as biology since I was in middle school, so it only made sense to major in something STEM related; However, there were several factors at play that made it more challenging than simply whether or not I was interested. I had to consider that pursuing a degree in biology and wanting to apply to dental school meant adding a financial strain on my family. I would have to pay tuition for an additional four to six years. I also had to consider what it would take to be a competitive applicant, to even be considered. Even though it was stressful and challenging, I was fortunate to have the unconditional support from my parents. They wanted me to be happy pursuing something I was passionate about.

Although I have faced and will continue to face challenges as a result of being a first generation student, I acknowledge that I would not be where I am if it were not for all the things my parents have given up for me. They have done everything in their power to give me a better quality of life, and I will gladly face any challenge headed in my direction if that means I can achieve creating a better future for myself and for my future generations. Now, I can proudly say that I am attending the college of my choice, and I am majoring in biology on the pre-dental track with the hopes of attending dental school and becoming the first doctor in my family. 

I am a first-generation, Hispanic female in STEM. I would not change any of my experiences if given the opportunity. It has made me strong-willed and hard-working. It has  motivated me to pursue my goals so that I can make myself and my family proud. I hope that other individuals that are also first generation students pursue what makes them feel fulfilled, especially if they are interested in STEM. This is my thank you letter to my parents and all first generation students who are determined to achieve their goals.  

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