Freshman Time Management Tips: Be Ambitious but Realistic

By Michelle Sandoval

Freshman year is the perfect time for researching and planning for opportunities that will help build your college applications and practice good time management. Experiences outside of your regular academic classes, such as summer programs, volunteer opportunities and more are what will help build your character, drive your interests and eventually become experiences from which you pull from to write college and scholarship essays, talk about in interviews and more. However, keep in mind that you will still need to maintain your grades and regular academic commitments, so when considering extracurricular activities, be realistic with what you can and cannot do. Here are some tips:

1. Manage your time and decide which extracurricular activities to which you can commit.
It is really tempting to join just about every club that offers free goodies or cool trips, but you must realize that the amount of homework will increase as the school year progresses. You don’t want to be swamped with schoolwork and an overcommitted schedule.

2. Select a few, quality extracurricular commitments.
Your time after school and on weekends should consist of more than just sleeping, eating, and watching TV. If you have nothing else to do, then you should be looking for activities that interest you, but that you can also continue doing for the rest of your time in high school. Narrow your choices to a club or two that are of the greatest interest to you personally and academically, and participate enough to show colleges that you were committed.

3. Know when to ask for help.
If you’re struggling with a subject, please let your teacher know as soon as possible so that a plan of action can be established before your grade is too low and nothing can be done about it.

4. You will make mistakes. Learn from it and move on.
A bad exam grade is not the end of the world. You might have a day when you’re completely surprised by the teacher announcing that they’re collecting a homework assignment that was due that day. But you have to bounce back. Make a promise to yourself that you’ll learn from your mistake. Buy a planner that will help you track assignments, set a reminder on your phone, or create a weekly assignment list with due dates. Find your strategy and make it work for you.

5. Keep on top of your daily school schedule.
As new students to campus, it may be challenging to remember your daily class schedules. For example, at ERHS, we have all periods (0-6) on Mondays and Fridays, but alternate schedules on the other days. I see many students waste time trying to find the printed sheet that contains their schedule instead of storing it somewhere that is easily accessible. In time you will memorize your schedule, but until then, keep your schedule permanently clipped to a folder or a card that is easy to find and keep you moving.

Finally, know that Generation 1st Degree is here to help with any college preparation questions, and I encourage you to become involved. The more you know earlier in your high school year, the more easier it will be to manage college and scholarship application needs as you get closer to your senior year.

Key to College Starts With Reading

By Jacki Cisneros

Many studies have shown the benefits of reading to early learners as young as infants. Reading to a young child helps build vocabulary, comprehension, speech and social skills. Each year Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera and its volunteers come together to donate 10 books to every kindergarten student in Pico Rivera—typically over 800 books in all! It’s a fun event that gets our future college grads excited about reading and starting or adding to their own personal library at home.

Many of us may think that reading with a younger child is something typically done with a parent or teacher. However, older siblings also play an important role in demonstrating the importance of reading and comprehension, and this goes for all younger siblings—from babies to teens. Children often look up to and want to imitate older teens and young adults. Think back to when you were in grade school and the role models you looked up to.

If you have a love for reading, why not share it! Remember that colleges are always looking for students that have contributed something unique to the community through volunteerism, leadership or academic achievement. What better way to demonstrate your commitment to education then to become a role model for literacy. It can be as simple as researching and selecting themed books with a sibling. For high school students who don’t have a younger sibling, consider becoming a volunteer at a local school or preschool, or lead a book club or meet up at your local library for younger students in your neighborhood.

As you continue to build your needs for college and scholarship opportunities, don’t forget to think about the little contributions you can make in your home or in your community that could be used as a learning experience and build your character. Document your “aha” moments and think about how the experience has changed you. Every experience will help you tell a great story in colleges and scholarship essays.

Jacki Cisneros

Apply Yourself and Don’t Doubt Your Acceptance

Maggie Grisco, a senior at ERHS, has a pretty impressive academic resume. She’s been in Academic Student Body (ASB) since her freshman year and served as freshman president. She continued to participate in student leadership roles as a sophomore, served as the Technology Commissioner in her junior year, played water polo and maintained her academic commitments. As junior year came to an end, she knew she wanted to further her leadership skills, so she sought out and applied for a summer program with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Youth Leadership Institute at USC.


We had a chance to talk to Maggie about her experience this past July and this is what she had to say:


How did you learn about the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Youth Leadership Institute opportunity?

I was aware of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and was looking at their website. When I saw that there was an opportunity to apply for the leadership summer program at USC, I applied for it. I was originally waitlisted, but eventually got in and attended this past July 26-29.


Tell us about the three days you spent at the Youth Leadership Institute:

On the first day, we settled into the dorms and took a tour of the campus. After that, our schedules were pretty jam-packed with workshops that covered everything from the college process, financial aid, college terminology and more. We also had a chance to meet with college admissions counselors—the ones who read everyone’s college applications—who gave us some insight and tips. There were also guest speakers, such as business owners, lawyers, an actor and more, all of whom shared with us their journey to their careers and are regarded as Hispanic “superstars.”


What was your most memorable part?

I remember thinking that I was surrounded by a lot of really smart people, such as valedictorians, students who started their own clubs or organizations, student tutors and more. There was a moment when I really felt overwhelmed and that I didn’t belong there. But as we went through the workshops, I really began to understand that I did belong. One speaker even confirmed with all of us and said, “Don’t feel like you don’t belong here. There were so many applicants and there are 100 of you who were selected.” Hearing those words made me feel happy and unafraid. I met some really great people that I learned so much from. It was really moving and at times, we were teary eyed.


How has that experience changed our outlook?

The experience made me realize that I should be more competitive, and that I shouldn’t be afraid to apply to bigger schools or fear rejection. One of the guest speakers was rejected by all but one college and was really happy with that outcome. I know that wherever I go, I was chosen to be there by the admissions office and I’m going to be happy.


What were some of the overall messages that you would like to share with your fellow DONS?

There’s a reason why we get accepted to certain colleges and programs, and when we do get there don’t feel like you are less than the others or scared. There’s something unique that you bring to the college or program. Make friends, learn and grow from it.

College Tips from Summer Send Off

By Jacki Cisneros

Each year, we host a Summer Send Off where graduating students for Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera are invited to a luncheon to hear guest speakers share their knowledge and experience as first-generation college students. Parents are also invited so they too can listen and ask questions about college life.

If you’re a rising college freshman and you didn’t get a chance to make it to this event, you missed out on inspiring speeches by two G1DPR alum, Monica Ochoa and Melissa Aguirre, as well as a chance to win raffle prizes like a computer, printer, mini refrigerator, microwave, money and more.

During the luncheon, I also presented my college tips. Whether or not your staying within the area, moving hours or states away, all of these tips will help you to survive your freshman year of college.

Here are my top 5 tips:

  1. Get involved on campus. Find your niche of people who have common backgrounds or interests. You’re looking for that group of people who will support you. It may take a few attempts to find your group, but don’t give up because once you do, I guarantee they will be your friends for life.
  2. Visit your professors during their office hours. Introduce yourself and let them know who you are. If you’re struggling, let them know what you need help with. While keeping a good relationship with your professor might not translate to an A, they will see your determination and help you out. They are there for you. Here’s how I look at it: College is expensive and the price we’re paying is for the services the professors are hired to provide, which is educate students. Go in with the mindset that your professors work for you. If you do not understand the curriculum, then they are not doing their job. Challenge them to figure out a way to help you understand. If you change your attitude it’ll power you.
  3. Get help before it’s too late. If you’re at a C in college you’re closer to a D than you are to a B. Get help ASAP.
  4. Remember you belong where you are. The admissions office has a process to determine which students would be a great fit for the school. They saw that you belong there and that’s why you were accepted. So even if you feel overwhelmed and doubt your ability to be successful at that college, know that it’s part of the process.
  5. Finally, Call your parents. Set a day and time – maybe Sunday evening. Your parents may not have a reference point of college and what it is like. Sometimes their source of information is what they see on the news about college campuses and that could make them worry. Update them regularly. Keep them involved with your journey. Share your experiences.

My final message is a heavy one, but one I feel I must put in words: “No” means NO! Be smart about where you go and whom you go with. Never walk alone. Text a friend or roommate to let them know your whereabouts and what time you’ll be back. Victims are all sizes, shapes, colors and gender. Keep yourself safe.

Gilbert and I want to wish the entire incoming college freshman a successful first year of college. Know that we are always here for support or as a resource, so don’t be a stranger.



Jacki Cisneros






Put Fear Aside, Becoming Extraordinary Takes Calculated Risks

By Monica Ochoa, Mechanical Systems Design and Analysis Engineer, The Boeing Company

This regular girl who grew up playing AYSO soccer at Smith Park, eating Yogurtland at the town center, who attended Magee Elementary, Burke Middle and El Rancho High School graduated from her dream university and now works at her dream job.

When I look back to when I graduated from El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera, I didn’t realize all the challenges I would be faced with in the coming years, not to mention all the growing I would do as well. The summer after graduating high school, I began at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN as an Aerospace Engineering major and as a first-generation college student. Moving to a brand new state and being in a completely new environment was an opportunity for me to extend my boundaries out of Pico.  Most of my high school counterparts stayed relatively close to home; however, I knew that if I wanted to not only do well, but excel in my career, then I would have to take calculated risks, the first being open to moving and becoming independent.

My four years at Notre Dame were the most challenging years of my life, as I struggled with adjusting to a different climate, both environmentally and socially. I failed countless times, but the important thing is I never lost focus of my dream for a better future. My parents were my strongest supporters, as they always reminded me that even though I came from a different place than most students there, I was just as capable and intelligent as them. I began to get involved in different activities around campus, including being on the Notre Dame Rocket Team (NDRT), participating in La Misa en Español, helping Latinx Campus Ministry and being a part of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. My largest involvement was with NDRT, and that is where I really found my passion for the space industry. The proudest moments of my undergrad career were winning the Altitude Award in the NASA Student Launch Competition and being elected as the captain of the 75 members on the team my senior year.

During the spring semester of my senior year, I was presented with an opportunity to interview for a full-time position at The Boeing Company. Thanks to the Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation, I was able to become very involved with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and through their conferences I was fortunate enough to receive interview skills and training. On that front, I felt very prepared going into my interviews. Also thanks to the Cisneros Foundation, I was able to make a connection that led to my two years of interning at the City of Pico Rivera Engineering Department. Those years of experience prepared me for the technical qualities the job at Boeing required. Along with the help of my fantastic education at the University of Notre Dame, I landed my dream job with The Boeing Company.

I did it. I graduated from my dream school with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering, and I decided to take another calculated risk in moving to Huntsville, AL to begin my dream job with The Boeing Company. Moving to a different state for college was difficult, but I knew it was temporary. Moving to a different state for a full-time job, was even more difficult because there isn’t a definitive end in sight. The thing is, after looking at so many of my role models, I’ve come to see that people who take risks even when they’re scared don’t become just ordinary people; they become extraordinary people. They’re the people that make a difference and impact their community, their industry and in some cases, even the world. I believe that every kid with a dream should strive to not be ordinary, to be extraordinary and take some risks, even when you’re scared of the unknown.


Today I am a Mechanical Systems Design and Analysis Engineer at The Boeing Company in Huntsville, AL. I work on the Space Launch System, which is a project for NASA with the goal of putting the first humans on Mars. I plan on beginning a Master of Engineering program next fall and in the future, would like to work towards a Master of Business Administration. I’d like to apply to be an astronaut one day and help lead the aerospace industry in space exploration. Aside from my technical career, I would like to begin my own scholarship foundation in honor of my parents and help Pico Rivera students attend college, just as the Cisneros and so many other people have helped me along the way.

I will never forget where I come from, and I know that I will always think back to the amazing community of support I have at the City of Pico Rivera. I hope every parent, student, community resident who reads this can see that if a regular girl from the south side of Pico can achieve her dreams, anyone else can too. Si se puede!

Annual Summer Send Off a Success!

Every year, Jacki and Gilbert Cisneros, co-founders of Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera, host an annual event called the “Summer Send Off”. The event was designed to provide incoming freshmen and their parents an opportunity to hear from G1DPR alumni on their college experience.

The event starts off with a fun mixer that helps “break the ice” between freshman and college alum. This year, after lunch was served, former El Rancho High School students and G1DPR alumni, Monica Ochoa (class of 2014) and Melissa Aguirre (class of 2017) presented on their experiences and college tips. Following their inspiring speeches, Jacki and Gilbert Cisneros also provided their words of wisdom.


Another highlight of the event is the raffle prizes. Each student is entered for a chance to win prizes ranging from Top Ramen and toilet paper to laptops, printers, microwaves, mini refrigerators, gift cards and more! Students who were lucky enough to win are heading to college with one less thing to purchase off their back to school list.


If you’re a rising senior, DO NOT miss out on this event next summer! It’s an opportunity to ask questions from former DONS and win great prizes!



Meet Your Young Legislators


Meet Your Young Legislators

Two of our Generation 1st Degree student members, Haya Villareal and Hugo Vera have an interest in politics and making a change in their community. Instead of waiting until they major in political science or land their first job in government, these two motivated students have taken a leap forward by applying for and being accepted into Assembly Member Cristina Garcia’s Young Legislators Program.

The Young Legislators Program (YLP) provides high school students with the opportunity to become acquainted with the legislative process and to integrate themselves within their local communities through service. Upon completion of this program, Haya and Hugo will have cultivated a thorough understanding of legislative politics and will be well equipped to become future leaders.

“When I told Michelle Sandoval that I was interested in political science, she encouraged me to apply for the Young Legislators Program,” said Hugo Vera, a senior at El Rancho High School. “I’m already a member of the Teen Courts Club, but being part of YLP gives me an opportunity to find out how I can be engaged in the community.”

Similar to Hugo, Haya Villareal, also a senior at El Rancho High School, wanted to learn how government and businesses help communities on a day-to-day basis.

Since the program began, Vera and Hugo have toured the college campus of UCLA and the Coca-Cola Factory. The group of 45 students selected from all over California will also take a 3-day trip to Sacramento to learn more about our state’s government.

“I know for a fact that I want to be part of my community and help, and through YLP I get to see how change is made and what actions need to take place,” said Vera. “I also applied because my mom always told me if there’s an opportunity, I should take it because you never know where it will get you.”

Vera’s mom is right! The more opportunities students participate in to gain a deeper understanding of a career or industry, the more personal insight they will have to further themselves in that field. If you have a specific interest and want to know how you can gain more hands-on experience, don’t hesitate to reach out to a local professional or association to find out what types of student programs they offer. It’s also a very good time to start researching and planning for summer programs.

Money-Savvy Tips For Students

By Michelle Sandoval, Program Manager, G1DPR


During the spring semester, after all college applications have been turned in and students are anxiously waiting for acceptance letters, I transition the focus of our workshops to themes related to students’ financial management. Money plays an important role throughout life, so it is important for students to understand how to manage what they have appropriately.


Last month, I reviewed how to read financial aid award letters. This month, I am covering money-savvy tips that are useful for any teenager or young adult transitioning to college. Here are some helpful tips:


Track Where Your Money Goes

This is a simple, recommended activity that can have many positive benefits. Grab a notebook and start listing any money spent, including the date, total amount spent, and what was purchased. At the end of the week or month, add up your purchases by categories (coffee, eating out, snacks, movie dates) and see where the majority of your money has been spent. Then you can come up with easy alternatives to any bad money spending habits, such as staying in for a movie night versus going to a movie theater, or a potluck gathering with friends instead of dining out.


Establish a Credit History

Sometimes students think they are being “smart” by waiting until they graduate from college to apply for credit cards. This can come from a multitude of reasons, but the most common that I’ve heard is because their parents taught them not to owe money, so they avoid credit cards altogether. However, waiting until you graduate college to start looking for a credit card means you’ll most likely be only offered ones with very high interest rates or denied altogether for not having any credit history.


To start establishing credit history, I recommend that parents consider adding the student as an authorized user to one of their credit cards. Parents don’t have to physically give the card to their child. The purpose of adding the child is to help the child begin a credit file. Once your parents have created a credit file or you have opened a credit card in your name, it’s important to get into the habit of checking your credit score. Sites like Credit Karma are free and great for this!


Start a Checking and Savings Account

Opening a bank account can teach students how to make regular deposits, keep track of money, and prevent their account balances from overdraft charges early on in life. Online banking and smartphone apps developed specifically by banks also make account management easier for the younger generations who are used to using their phones for everything. As you begin to work and start saving money, a checking account becomes a good option as a place to hold enough money that you will be using to pay your recurring payments and fees; for example, cell phone payments, car payments, book purchases, etc.


With a checking account, and money coming in and going out, you will need to know how to write a check, especially if the school you are attending uses checks for scholarship awards or reimbursements. Here is a very easy to follow activity that will help you know exactly where to write what.


Similar to a checking account, a savings account is also a great place to keep your money. The benefit to a savings account is it sets aside money separate from what is allocated for recurring payments, and most savings accounts earn interest on the amount of money saved in the account.


Ways to Save Money

Use your Student ID. As a college student, you can get discounts for a lot of purchases you may not have previously considered. For example, Amazon Prime waives the annual membership fee upon proof of college enrollment. Anytime you buy anything – on and off campus, and even online – ask if there is a student discount.


Another great way to save is to utilize coupons or mobile phone applications (Target’s Cartwheel app is a great example of this) for everyday purchases that you can find at lower prices. Sometimes a simple online price comparison or knowing that items are on sale in upcoming days might mean having to wait longer to make purchases but usually means scoring bigger savings.


Learning how to manage money and maintain a high credit score will become increasingly important as you make your way through college to independence. In fact, many employers will run credit checks during the hiring process. This means that similar to checking your work history, college education and personal references, the employer will run a credit report and may factor in that score as they consider you as an employee. Additionally, establishing good spending habits and credit history throughout college will create many great benefits for you in the long run, especially when making large purchases such as a car or first home.

Your “Community” in College & Why it Matters

Last year, I attended a Young Men of Color conference and listened to several speakers talk about the emotional support first-generation students need to succeed in college. It confirmed what I’ve believed in all along–that first-generation students need to find “their people and/or community” on campus, especially during their freshman year. While the social aspect of it — needing to build new friendships — is what might be the initial driver, what’s even more important is the need to identify with like-minded students from the same culture, upbringing, family dynamics, interests and more. It’s human nature for all of us to feel a huge sense of comfort and relief knowing that we are not alone and that others are facing similar challenges and wins.


As you all continue to attend college campus tours and research the ideal college to attend, here are a few things to look for or ask of the student resource center:


  • Where is my community?
    Find out what types of clubs and associations are on campus that meet your interests and needs. For example, if you are majoring in engineering, join the department’s engineering club. Most college campuses will also have clubs and associations related to every ethnicity and interest you can think of, such as a Latino Club, choir, speech and debate, etc. Once you’re on campus, be sure to reach out to the club organizer to sign up for their newsletter or social media pages for updates on meet-ups, mixers and events.
  • Diversity and Inclusion

It’s also important to note that many colleges will have a dedicated staff member who helps students and staff navigate diversity and inclusion on campus. Determine who the point person is at the colleges of choice and find out what resources are available to students.


  • El Rancho Alumni and Mentors

Sometimes your best resource is a former student from El Rancho High who now attends the college of your choice. If you’re shy and need an introduction, please don’t hesitate to ask Michelle Sandoval, Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera’s program manager, to help assist with the introduction. Many of our students are proud to welcome new students from their hometown to their college campus.


For more tips on how to survive your first year of college, please check out an article we posted after the Young Men of Color conference last year.



Jacki Cisneros


2017 Year in Review

2017 has been a very busy yet productive year for Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera. We kicked off the new year with a visit to Washington D.C. where one of our very own G1DPR and El Rancho High School students, Bethania Perez, was inaugurated into former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room Student Advisory Council.


In April, we hosted our largest event yet, A Day in Space! This community event engaged local students and families, age 0-100, to participate in a fun, inspiring, interactive and educational event to learn about the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and its application to careers in aerospace.

Emcee Kim Baldonado, a news reporter for NBC4 Southern California, lead the morning plenary discussion between NASA Astronauts José Hernández and Mark Kelly, Diana Trujillo, Mars Curiosity Mission Lead-NASA JPL and Will Pomerantz, Vice-President Special Projects, Virgin Galactic on their personal journeys to their careers in space. Following the plenary, attendees had the opportunity to participate in intimate break out sessions, including: Women in Space, Careers in Aerospace, and a Q&A with an Astronaut. Rounding out the event was an Interactive Space Fair filled with STEM-inspired exhibits from NASA AMES, NASA JPL, Los Angeles Universal Preschool, Northrup Grumman, Play-Well TEKnologies and several University and Cal State engineering representatives.

In May 2017, more than 200 ERHS senior students took the College Signing Day Pledge to continue to reach higher, as part of Mrs. Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room initiative. During the event, I challenged the current Class of 2018 to double the number of college-bound graduates. I know you can do it!

We hosted our annual Summer College Sendoff Luncheon in June for college freshman and their parents to meet and learn from former ERHS students who are in college. Guest speakers, Justin Uribe and John Barrios, put the college experience into perspective. It was amazing to have two of our very own El Rancho students share their first-hand college reality.

And, of course, these last few months have been focused on preparing our incoming Class of 2018 for college by sending them on college campus tours, college applications and scholarship workshops, and so many other programs to ensure that their pathway to college is clear and bright.


As we close out 2017, I want to share my sincere thanks to our staff, the staff at El Rancho High School, and all of our community partners, individuals and families who continue to support Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera. It takes a strong-willed community like Pico Rivera to make change, and together we are increasing the number of college degrees in our community. Cheers to continued success in 2018!!!



Jacki Cisneros