G1DPR Alumni share the real story of college at Summer Send-off Luncheon

The speakers at our Summer Send-off Luncheon were dynamic, interesting and phenomenal! Both are El Rancho High School graduates and went through the Generation 1st Degree program; Justin Uribe is in his first year of business studies at UC Berkeley and John Barrios recently graduated from Yale University. Each of them had unique perspectives on the college life and gave students a good idea of what they might feel, see and do when they get to their respective campuses.

Justin Uribe –

When I applied to UC Berkeley, I had no idea what it was. I was paired with the college admissions officer, who told me about the school and I applied. Now I’ve finished my first year and it was a transforming year. I had the chance to interact with all sorts of ideas circling around, I even had the chance to sit down and have breakfast with my professor who was light years ahead of me and opened my eyes to so much. Not all my experiences had to do with my majors. College is fun, college is great, but it isn’t easy. You should be challenged. You may experience your first failure. You won’t be the smartest person in the room. But just because you may fail at some things doesn’t mean that you won’t succeed. Don’t be afraid to change your major. What you are passionate about when you start may change as you learn about new things. Don’t feel committed for your entire life; that once you choose a career that you’re stuck with it if it doesn’t excite you. College is the place to learn and change. Learn about different people’s culture, and backgrounds. Have discussions with other people. They will push you. You may not be used to asking for help, but find your resources and give yourself a chance to be challenged and grow. Find your niche. Ask upperclassmen for advice and help. Benefit from their knowledge and experience, they will share with you and help you. You’re all there to learn. Remember not to take on the whole world and become overwhelmed. Take time for yourself. Get involved in your school –sports, clubs, activities –and surround yourself with positive people. If you have to take an extra semester, take it. You will be better for it. The future is in your hands, but never forget your roots and where you came from. Remember the people who got you here probably sacrificed for you.

John Barrios –

I was born and raised in Pico Rivera to a single mom, in a low-income Mexican American family. And now I’m a Yale graduate. But I wanted to share with you what happened on my first day. I got to Yale and went to the big gate, took three steps in and…froze. My first thought was what if this is all a mistake? I didn’t believe that I belonged. I stood there for a couple of hours before I could go register with just minutes to spare. The most important thing you need to know is that you are there for a couple of reasons. First, because you are worthy and also they chose you out of so many applicants. Colleges accept students because they want to look good in the future. They are bettering that 10-20 years in the future, you’re going to succeed and when you are introduced, they will always say your college’s name. Every time I get introduced, it’s John Barrios, Yale Graduate and they like that. The most dangerous thing that could happen to you is self-doubt. Don’t let this happen. You’re probably going to have some academic surprises. I was a pretty good student in high school, so when I got a 10-page writing assignment, I worked on it and was very surprised to get a C minus. My first thought was I’m not as good a writer as I thought I was, but I read through the paper and read the comments and realized that I had a lot to learn. Paying for classes changes your perspective. Just keep that thought in mind. In your classes, look at who’s asking the questions and be like them. Don’t be afraid. Introduce yourself to professors and ask questions. You need a community to lift you back up and your classmates can do that. Go to networking events and take care of your mental health. And when you are thinking about internships or jobs and you have a dream company in mind, reach out to them. Don’t be afraid to ask. And always, always follow up.

#Don and #BetterMakeRoom Contributor Shares New Year’s Views

As we begin 2017, we want to highlight Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera alumnus Crystal Sanchez who was recently featured as Better Make Room Twitter Takeover guests contributor. Better Make Room is a social media program started by First Last Michelle Obama to support first-generation college students by offering resources and sharing stories from like-minded students around the country. We’ve included a few words from Crystal, as well as links to her inspiring Better Make Room blog post about her college-going experience.

My Better Make Room Twitter Takeover was a wonderful and rewarding experience. I am beyond grateful that Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros recommended me for the opportunity to inspire students just like myself to believe in them by sharing my story. I remember feeling terrified at the mere thought of college because I feared the possibility of rejection. I did not possess the self-confidence to believe in myself but eventually, I gained a positive mindset and learned to have faith in my capabilities. My Better Make Room Twitter Takeover has granted me the opportunity to remind other students that they too are capable of whatever they set their minds to.

I enjoyed every aspect of the Takeover. One of my favorite components involved sharing my own college tips through the Better Make Room twitter account. I wanted to provide students with pointers I found the most helpful during my transition into college. I really wanted to stress the importance of enjoying oneself in college. Of course, academics always come first but it is all about finding a balance between studying and engaging in social activities. I found the overall structure of the Takeover to be fun and appealing to students. I can only hope my story has eased the minds of students about college. After all, anything can be achieved if one believes. Thank you to First Lady Michelle Obama for inspiring me to reach for the stars!

To read about Crystal’s Better Make Room Twitter Takeover, click here.

#BetterMakeRoom and #reachhigher: A Q&A with Justin Uribe

“If I can have this opportunity to attend college coming from a community where the average percentage of households with a Bachelor’s Degree is 11%, anyone can.” Those are the words of Justin Uribe, an El Rancho High School graduate and freshman at UC Berkeley. Earlier this month, his message was broadcast all over social media as part of the Better Make Room college awareness campaign launched by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2015 in partnership with her Reach Higher college access initiative. We caught up with Justin during his midterms week and asked a few questions about his journey from Pico Rivera to Berkeley.

G1DPR:   In your Better Make Room “Twitter Takeover” you mentioned “I pushed through a multitude of obstacles using every opportunity afforded to me and connected with staff who have really pushed me to do well.” Describe to us the opportunities and connections that helped you get to where you are today.

Justin: Coming from a Latino background, it’s not such a prevalent thing to have generations of college graduates before me. My brother and I are the first to go to college, and we did so without the influence that’s apparent in more affluent schools where higher education is a priority. Friends who attended those affluent schools come from families where almost everyone has a college degree. In my family, I’m breaking barriers for being one of the first to go to college, and it was a challenge to get here.

Fortunately, programs through Generation 1st Degree, like Be A Leader and College Blue Print built me up and pushed me to go to college. It was my junior year in high school when I found out about these programs. Attending summer sessions, college tours and meetings helped me build my “how to” for going to college. That’s when I focused on college applications and the logistics of financial applications, and Be A Leader was on top of it…always reminding us of deadlines.

G1DPR: We asked Better Make Room to share with us some of the social media insights and your story reached more than 700 people on Facebook, 500 on Instagram and had more than 40,000 impressions on Twitter. What do you think about that?

Justin: Wow, really humbling that people saw and read it! I appreciate it all because I didn’t think I would get this far. When I saw a retweet from the U.S. Department of Education and my face was on their news feed I thought, “Whoa!”

G1DPR Fill in the blanks: “If it weren’t for _____ I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Justin: My teachers, especially my family and all of the opportunities provided to me over the years… and G1DPR.

G1DPR: If you were to host a lecture back at ERHS about your pathway through high school to college, what words of wisdom would you share with your fellow DONS?

Justin: I would say I was in the same seat. I had the same teachers, the same classes and the same difficulties and environment they are growing up in. Where I am right now, it’s a great place and you can totally reach where I am. But I want you to surpass me. I mean, it’s a great place where I am, but aim for more. Be persistent and don’t take no for an answer.

The Skills to Succeed

By: Daisy Del Real

It was a great privilege and honor being part of Generation First Degree- Pico Rivera(G1DPR) programs: Be A Leader and The College Blueprint. These college bound workshops enabled me to grow both personally and professionally by helping me develop valuable skills that will help me in achieving my desired career. G1DPR is a great opportunity for first generation college students to reach academic success by preparing and ensuring a smooth transition to college.

By being part of G1DPR, I was able to develop interpersonal skills and learn how to network, which are important skills to have as a college student. I have found these skills to be an essential part of college, not only as a way of ensuring academic success but also as a way of making college a fun experience.

I am currently an undergraduate student at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). I am majoring in Biology and my ultimate goal is to work in the medical field.

With the skills that G1DPR helped me develop, I’ve become a better and stronger student. Now, I’m that student that seeks help and signs up for and attends teacher’s office hours, as well as many other helpful programs that are offered on campus, such as supplemental instruction.

Networking and interpersonal skills have been my asset as I make my way through college. I am extremely grateful to have had such a wonderful opportunity of being part of G1DPR. I am thankful to Jacki and Gilbert Cisneros for their wonderful educational campaign because with it, they are enforcing the importance of going to college and making the transition from high school to college a smooth one for all the students in Pico Rivera homes. This has made all the difference.


The #BetterMakeRoom Takeover

By: Monica Ochoa — G1DPR Alum & Notre Dame University Sophomore

There’s a saying that goes like this: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

And that’s just what Better Make Room is doing as they’ve partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative, to spread the message about the Better Make Room campaign that’s directed at Generation Z (14-19 year olds).

The Better Make Room campaign was created to celebrate education, change the national conversation, and give students the tools they need to reach higher for college. It highlights the possibility of a better education, a better career, and a better future. It also ensures that young people understand the steps, tools and resources available to help them Reach Higher, such as registering for the SAT and ACT, visiting a college campus, filling out FAFSA, and completing at least four college applications.

This month, I took over Better Make Room’s Twitter for a week– here’s what this incredible opportunity showed me.

Better Make Room is empowering as it reaches thousands of aspiring and current college students around the country. It’s all about sharing students’ experiences with others in the hopes of motivating them to pursue an education and lead a successful life.

I immediately felt a personal connection with many of the students sharing on the Better Make Room social media sites. So many of them have been through similar experiences that I’ve been through.

Personally, I love to share my story and help others. Whether it’s about the process of applying to college, financial aid or just sharing a motivating phrase. Having the opportunity and privilege to be a part of Better Make Room allowed me to do what I love – at an even greater magnitude than I ever imagined.

It was such a great experience to see people react positively to my posts. I felt that my voice was being heard around the country. The most valuable lesson I learned in doing this is to remember that I can help others reach the point where I’m at today.

Some students really just need a couple of words of encouragement to hit those ‘Submit’ buttons on their college applications. As a current college student, I feel a responsibility to help students understand that it’s more than worth it to reach for their dreams.

As my fellow El Rancho High School Dons head back to school, I say this: Always keep your goals in mind and fight for them, especially when you’re going through a rough patch. The phrase, “After every storm, there is a rainbow” really is true, no matter how insignificant it may sound. So keep going. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.

I understand that applying for colleges and scholarships can be strenuous, but I promise everyone that an education is absolutely worth it. Don’t stop until you reach your goals, even if it takes one try or a hundred tries.

As I travel back to Notre Dame University for my sophomore year, I can tell you that the reason it’s important for me to still be a part of G1DPR is because I love my community. I love where I come from and I want every single student in Pico Rivera to go to college and have the same opportunities I’ve had. We’re not alone in the struggles we face. I was in your same exact position just a couple of years ago and if I can continue on to college, so can you!

For more information, please go to BetterMakeRoom.org

Making UC San Diego Home

By: Janeth Castellanos – G1DPR Alum & UCSD Sophomore

During my college application process, I received continuous support from G1DPR programs. With the help of the Cisneros’ mentorship, the Be A Leader Senior Bootcamp, and The College Blueprint, I was given the essential preparation to get accepted into several colleges.

As a first generation college student, I was unsure how to approach my personal statements. Thankfully, many of these programs helped in both guiding and revising my drafts. Some of my drafts were even revised by college representatives themselves.

In addition, G1DPR taught me different educational components that would eventually set me apart from other students, such as community service. Thus, they offered us a volunteer opportunity in which we helped distribute school supplies to children from low- income families. My volunteer work not only benefited other families, I also was able to use this service as an example of the volunteer work I did on my college applications.

The most challenging part of my first year at UC San Diego was the competitive nature I found in each class. Unlike high school where most students end up familiarizing themselves and connecting with their classmates, in a challenging class with over 200 students, everyone is too focused on trying to learn the context. Socializing was definitely not a priority. This made college seem lonesome.

I recalled the G1DPR counselors always encouraging us to become active within the college community so that college would seem more intimate and friendly. As a result, I decided to join various study groups which both helped me find my classes less challenging and less competitive because of the newly acquired friends.

With the tools that the G1DPR programs have given me, I have completed my freshman year in college. Thanks to the confidence I have gained from G1DPR, my ultimate goal is to graduate from UC San Diego and eventually become a healthcare scientist.

A Thriving Bruin

By Carmen Toscano

As a first-generation college student, I had no idea what the college process was about. I felt lost in how to start the process in my junior and senior year of high school. Thankfully, I was rescued by the many programs of Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera (G1DPR). Through G1DPR’s programs, such as The College Blueprint and Be a Leader, I chose the perfect fit for me by exploring the many majors and college campuses.

One key and important aspect was that I was having help in writing phenomenal personal statements and applications that got me accepted into many colleges. Without the help of G1DPR, I would not be as successful as I am now.

Currently, I have successfully completed my first year of college at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). I am double majoring in history and political science and aspire to become a successful lawyer, concentrating on immigration.

The first year at UCLA was challenging because of its extremely competitive atmosphere. Additionally, I found myself completely alone due to the intense culture shock. I was sad to leave my home where I knew everyone and felt comfortable. However, I pushed through the competitive and unfamiliar atmosphere, by attending study sessions and constantly asking my professors for help during their office hours.

I ultimately broke out of my shell and began earning straight A’s, which has been one of my proudest accomplishments at UCLA. I thank Generation 1st Degree- Pico Rivera with all my heart for helping me chase my dreams and bringing me one step closer to being successful and achieving my dreams.

Going the Extra Mile

By Karen Lopez

*We are so proud of Karen and look forward to hearing back from her as she makes her way to and through George Washington University!

G1DPR gave me the resources and encouragement I needed when I was in the process of applying to a selective school. The program pushed me to apply to schools a little out of my comfort zone, but at the same time, schools that were a perfect match. There were various times where the stress took a hold of me, and G1DPR was there to help on a personal level as well.

Getting accepted to a selective institution has always been a dream of mine. To my family and I, having the privilege of attending a selective institution means success; education is a core value within my family. Moving on to the next chapter in my life and knowing that I will prosper in a challenging environment, while having great resources at hand, make my family proud.

To those on the path of applying to a selective institution, make sure to use all the resources available, take any opportunity given to you, and always go the extra mile. When you make the most out of something, you get the most out of it.

Accepted by One and All

As an upcoming senior, I was extremely scared of what the future had in store for me because my parents had not gone to college or even knew what the college process was like. After finishing the application process with the Be A Leader Foundation and Generation 1st Degree Pico Rivera, I felt more confident about my future. I applied to the University of Oregon, University of Arizona, University of California Merced, University of California Riverside, San Francisco State University, San Jose State University, California State University Bakersfield, California State University Northridge and California State University Los Angeles. I am fortunate enough to say that I’ve been admitted to all the schools I applied to with the help of Be A Leader and Generation 1st Degree Pico Rivera.

As a first generation college student, I’m extremely fortunate to be offered admissions to these great schools that I would’ve never dreamed of getting into. I’ll be attending the University of Arizona in the fall and I’m excited to explore my career in Public Relations through a Communications major. My ultimate goal is to become a Global Publicity Specialist for a company in the entertainment industry.

I’m proud to share the university that I’ve committed to with my peers and the Pico Rivera community on College Signing Day. This event will sum up all the hard work I’ve put into my academics. To be alongside my classmates as they sign with their dream school is definitely something I’m looking forward to. This College Signing Day will not only represent my commitment to the University of Arizona but also my acceptance into higher education.

I’m proud to be a role model to my younger brother and sisters for their college journeys. For them, it will not be a question of whether or not they’re going to college, it will be a matter of when. The journey I’ve taken has definitely been a challenging one but Generation 1st Degree Pico Rivera and Be A Leader have helped me to both develop my networking skills and be more comfortable with this college process. I am ready!

The Post-El Rancho Experience

By Jesse Enrique Sanchez

During my time at El Rancho High School, I found myself constantly attending college essay workshops hosted by Generation 1st Degree Pico Rivera.

As an aspiring first-generation college student and first-generation U.S. citizen, no one in my family could assist me with what I needed so I had to seek out opportunities for college student applications on my own. Without the extensive assistance that G1DPR provided me, I may not have been as successful as I am now.

I am currently majoring in History and Political Science at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, with minors in European Studies, Latin American Studies, International Relations, Russian Language and Literature.

I belong to four programs pertaining to undergraduate research and interdisciplinary academics at Cornell: the McNair, Rawlings, OADI, and College Scholar Programs. In addition, I am an editor for the Cornell International Affairs Review and Cornell Historical Society journal, Ezra’s Archives, and serve as the Political Chair for MEChA de Cornell.

I strive for an academic experience that is challenging, diverse, and positive. I understand the necessity and importance of a rich undergraduate experience, more so than I ever did in high school, as a result of the intellectual and personal experiences I’ve had here at Cornell. I realize that if it weren’t for my strong college application essays, my achievements and possibilities would have been much more limited.

In the future, I look forward to taking this knowledge and serving as a faculty member for a university History department, in order to fulfill my life-long goal of educating and sharing my knowledge with young minds. To Generation 1st Degree Pico Rivera and all those who have aided me in my journey, I say thank you.