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!



G1DPR Alumni, Karen Lopez, Cheers on Class of 2018 with Mrs. Michelle Obama

In 2016, Karen Lopez, who was an El Rancho High School and Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera student, had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to attend the then First Lady Mrs. Michelle Obama’s Reach for the Top: Beating The Odds summit at the White House with G1DPR founders, Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros. The summit was one of the former First Lady’s programs that helped underrepresented students gain “the tools and strategies to help them successfully transition to college and complete the next level of their education.”

Karen graduated from El Rancho High in 2016, celebrated College Signing Day, and made her way to George Washington University, in D.C. She was awarded a Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute scholarship, and through the Cisneros Foundation and G1DPR’s partnership with Mrs. Obama’s Reach Higher initiative, she was offered an opportunity to apply for an internship with the Better Make Room campaign.

Since September 2017, Karen and her fellow interns have been part of the Better Make Room task force. The task force mentors high school students across the nation pursuing their pathway to college and supports them with college applications, questions about FAFSA and more.

On May 2, 2018, Karen embarked upon a second opportunity to be under the same roof with Mrs. Obama. She and her Better Make Room task force were invited to hear Mrs. Obama address thousands of Class of 2018 students attending the College Signing Day celebration in Philadelphia, and cheer them on as they made their promise to higher education.

Even more thrilling was the opportunity to meet Mrs. Obama during the event, and be in the same room with celebrities including Bradley Cooper, Rebel Wilson, Zendaya, Robert De Niro, Camila Cabello, Questlove, Anthony Mackie and Janelle Monae.

“Meeting Mrs. Obama was an experience I never imagined could happen,” said Lopez. “Her words are always inspiring, and they reminded me to continue to set the bar high for myself and to encourage my peers to do the same. I’m grateful for my experience with Generation 1st Degree, the support of the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute and the opportunity to intern with Better Make Room. All of these experiences have encouraged me to strive harder. If it weren’t for this support system, I know I wouldn’t have challenged myself to go to college out of state, which has provided me with the most valuable experiences. As a first-generation student, I’m speechless when I think about how far I’ve come from Pico Rivera.”

We asked Karen, Who initiated the hug when she met Mrs. Obama?: “When it was my turn to meet her, she opened up her arms, so I went in for a hug. She’s a really good hugger and gives a very heartwarming hug.”


Former first lady Michelle Obama hugs Karen Lopez while participating in College Signing Day, an event honoring Philadelphia students for their pursuit of a college education or career in the military, Wednesday, May 2, 2018, at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.
(Photo: Chuck Kennedy)

Generation 1st Degree Participates in Mrs. Michelle Obama’s College Signing Day

Earlier this month, Gilbert and I were honored to take part in the 5th Annual College Signing Day, hosted by Former First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her Reach Higher initiative at the Temple’s Liacouras Center, in Philadelphia.

As we walked into the center, we could feel the energy of the 5,000 students, mainly from all over Philadelphia, proud and excited to take the pledge to pursue higher education. We were lucky to bring 18 Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI) scholars to experience the celebration, including Generation 1st Degree and El Rancho High School alumni, Karen Lopez, who is currently enrolled at George Washington University and a Better Make Room intern.

Karen joined several Better Make Room interns and CHLI scholars to meet Mrs. Obama during the event, and rub elbows with celebrities including Bradley Cooper, Rebel Wilson, Zendaya, Robert De Niro, Camila Cabello, Questlove, Anthony Mackie and Janelle Monae. I’m grateful that through the partnerships we’ve developed through the Cisneros Foundation and Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera, we can provide inspiring and life-changing experiences to our students, such as College Signing Day and meeting Mrs. Obama.

Nationwide, 600,000 students were registered to participate, with events happening in 2,000 locations, including right here in Pico Rivera, where El Rancho High also celebrated College Signing Day. Nearly 140 of our Generation 1st Degree students are continuing on to college. Gilbert and I have dedicated the last several years to creating programs and opportunities for our students to reach higher, and it’s very rewarding to see our students like Karen thriving at their colleges, and our current senior high school class committing to higher education. You all did it! I am so proud of all of your accomplishments and the road ahead. Congratulations Class of 2018!

Jacki Cisneros


Former first lady Michelle Obama posing with Cisneros Scholars while participating in College Signing Day, an event honoring Philadelphia students for their pursuit of a college education or career in the military, Wednesday, May 2, 2018, at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.
(Photo: Chuck Kennedy)


Former first lady Michelle Obama hugs Karen Lopez while participating in College Signing Day, an event honoring Philadelphia students for their pursuit of a college education or career in the military, Wednesday, May 2, 2018, at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.
(Photo: Chuck Kennedy)


Former first lady Michelle Obama with Gil Cisneros as they participate in College Signing Day, an event honoring Philadelphia students for their pursuit of a college education or career in the military, Wednesday, May 2, 2018, at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.
(Photo: Chuck Kennedy)


Generation 1st Degree Students Accepted To Nearly 85 Colleges & Universities, Nationwide!

Congratulations to El Rancho High School’s graduation class of 2018! Approximately 140 G1DPR students have committed to pursuing higher education after graduation. We’re proud that our students were accepted to nearly 85 colleges and universities all over the country. GO, DONS!

These are the colleges and universities where you will find Class of 2018 Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera alum this Fall:

Cal State Universities:
California State Polytechnic University,
California State Polytechnic University,
San Luis Obispo
California State University, Bakersfield
California State University, Channel Islands
California State University, Chico
California State University, Dominguez Hills
California State University, East Bay
California State University, Fresno
California State University, Fullerton
California State University, Long Beach
California State University, Los Angeles
California State University, Monterey Bay
California State University, Northridge
California State University, Sacramento
California State University, San Bernardino
California State University, San Marcos
California State University, Stanislaus
Humboldt State University
San Diego State University
San Francisco State University
San Jose State University
Sonoma State University

University of California:
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Davis
University of California, Irvine
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, Merced
University of California, Riverside
University of California, San Diego
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of California, Santa Cruz

Independent Colleges
Arizona State University
Azusa Pacific University
Biola University
Boston University
California Lutheran University
Chapman University
Concordia University Irvine
Daemen College
Dean College
Dixie State University
George Washington University
Grand Canyon University
Hawaii Pacific University
Johnson & Wales University
Loyola Marymount University
Malone University
Mary Baldwin University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Montana State University
Mount Saint Mary’s University
New Mexico Highlands University
New York University
Northern Arizona University
Notre Dame de Namur University
Pacific University Oregon
Pepperdine University
Portland State University
Regis University
Roanoke College
Santa Clara University
Sarah Lawrence College
Seton Hall University
Sierra Nevada College
St. Louis University
Syracuse University
University of Arizona
University of Hawaii
University of Illinois
University of La Verne
University of Maine – Fort Kent
University of Nebraska – Lincoln
University of Oregon
University of Redlands
University of San Diego
University of Southern California
University of the Pacific
Vanguard University
Washington College
Washington State University
Wells College
West Washington University
Whittier College
Woodbury University
York College


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. http://www.themint.org/pdf/activity_Writing_A_Check.pdf


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


Decoding Scholarship Award Letters

By Michelle Sandoval

Over the next few months, students who applied for scholarships will begin to receive letters outlining if they’ve been awarded and how much they will receive—a very exciting time for recipients and their families. As you begin to read through the letters, you may find that they are sprinkled with terms that are new to you. Since it’s common for many students to have questions about their letters, I put together a quick overview of the four important terms you should know and what they mean:

1. Total Cost of Attendance
This is the yearly amount that a school estimates it costs to attend their institution. Direct costs reflect those necessary charges for school enrollment, such as tuition and fees, and room and board. This amount can be found on most school’s main financial aid websites.

Good to know: Sometimes, the amount that a school provides as their Cost of Attendance (COA) includes more than just the “direct” costs and can include “indirect” costs such as books, supplies, health insurance, transportation, and other personal expenses. These costs vary from student to student depending on their personal circumstances (i.e. if you are living on or off campus and if you have a dining meal plan, etc.). The most accurate COA is that which only includes direct costs; however, students must still account for possible changes in that amount.

2. Free Money
Keywords such as: “scholarship,” “award,” or “grant” are considered “free money.” These are awarded to students who have applied for the award and does not require the student to pay back the amount. The total amount of a student’s free money can be subtracted from the total COA, and can include federal, state, and institutional awards.

Good to know: In order to receive most of the promised “free money,” students must complete the FAFSA and any other paperwork that the school asks for, including maintaining certain GPAs for those scholarships based on merit.

3. Loans
Loans are set amounts of money that a student or parent borrows from a financial institution with the agreement that it will be paid back, often with interest. Based on your FAFSA, a school can determine your eligibility in receiving “borrowed” money to help pay off your school costs. These come in all types and are seen in the form of loans, which can be subsidized, unsubsidized, federal, or parent PLUS.

Good to know: This money is not free and must be paid back, and usually with added interest. It is up to the student to compare the different interest rates between the types of loans being offered in their award letter. A student does NOT have to accept any loans offered and can shop around for the best loan for their situation. Sometimes a student is not offered loans through the institution and must look elsewhere for more money to cover remaining costs, such as a bank loan (which might have significantly higher interest rates).

Your Estimated Out-of-Pocket Cost
Your estimated out-of-pocket cost is the remaining balance due to the institution, once you’ve applied all scholarships, financial awards, grants, and loans to the total COA. Students and their families should understand the formula used to calculate just how much the first year in college would cost. Here’s what you’ll need:
1. First, determine the college’s cost of attendance (COA), as described above.
2. Then total up the amount of “free money,” such as scholarships, awards and/or grants.
3. Next, total up the amount of loan money you and your family have chosen to accept.
4. Finally, apply the equation: Take the total COA and subtract the total amount of “free money” and the total amount of all “loans” from that total.


The Bottom Line
What’s left at the bottom of the line is your estimated out–of-pocket cost, which the student is responsible for covering. To reduce the remaining out-of-pocket cost, students can apply to local and state scholarships, work part-time jobs, or use personal savings accounts. A school may offer the student the opportunity to find an eligible Federal work-study job. If the opportunity is presented, the student still must apply and interview for the position. These positions typically provide hourly wages that vary depending on the job. In one year, a student can work and receive UP TO the amount stated in your work-study award letter.

Good to know: The amount stated in the “federal work-study” category is not a one-time check and should therefore not be viewed as automatic financial aid given to the student. Sometimes, schools do not offer work-study to a student; in these cases, a student can still work but will have to go through the regular steps of finding employment on their own.

The key to making attending your dream college come true is to apply for as many scholarships, grants and awards (“free money”) as possible. Receiving several small amounts can total up to a larger amount. For example, if you receive four $250 awards that’s $1,000 shaved off of your total COA.

G1DPR Alums Daniel Martinez Jimenez & Jocelyn Ortega on Scholarships

Imagine if you received $100 for each time a teacher, parent, counselor, Jacki Cisneros, or Michelle Sandoval mentioned the word “scholarship” and the importance of applying for them. You would probably have enough money to pay off some of your first-year’s tuition.

As you inch closer to your college dream, the reality of the costs will become more apparent. We hope that you’ve all been paying attention to our not-so-subtle hints to apply, apply, APPLY for scholarships.

We spoke to two ERHS and G1DPR alums to share their thoughts on scholarships now that they are half way through their freshman year.

Daniel Martinez Jimenez
Freshman, UC Davis
Major: Chemical Engineering

Coming from a low-income family, scholarships were a big thing for me. When you first see the numbers of how much college will cost, it’s shocking. The challenge for me was finding a scholarship that would accommodate me as a Dreamer. I did a lot of research and found that the Gus Parasa Memorial Scholarship was a good fit for me.

Even though I had a tough time finding scholarships during my senior year of high school, now that I’m a student at UC Davis, I’m finding more scholarship opportunities for Dreamers and many are generous. My advice is to not stress out about your immigration status, stay positive and don’t give up. Keep in touch with the high school administrators and teachers who have helped you along the way, as well as other first-generation students in college for motivation. Another great resource that Michelle Sandoval shared with me is MyUndocumentedLife.org, which provides a ton of information for undocumented students.

Jocelyn Ortega
Freshman, CSULB
Major: Biology


Jocelyn Ortega (left) pictured with her sister, Georjean.

During my senior year at El Rancho High School, my mom and I found out that we would be responsible for all college costs. To help with the expenses I researched and applied for scholarships. I was awarded the Frank Terrazas Scholarship, which fortunately paid for my second semester of college. In hindsight, I do wish that I had applied for more scholarships during my senior year. I’ve definitely been encouraging my younger sister, Georjean Ortega, who is currently a senior at ERHS to apply for as many as possible. What discouraged me from applying for more scholarships was the fact that many of them required essays, and to be honest creative writing doesn’t come easy for me. I wish I had just pushed through and wrote the essays. My advice to my fellow DONS is to not be discouraged by the writing. You’ll have a better chance of getting the scholarship as opposed to never having tried it to begin with.