“BECOMING” with Mrs. Michelle Obama

On Thursday, November 15th, after a long day of touring the college campus of UC Irvine, and a bus ride during rush-hour traffic, many of the Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera students made their way through the doors of the Forum in Los Angeles, to hear Former First Lady Mrs. Obama talk about her new biography, “BECOMING.”

The opportunity was made possible through a partnership with the Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros and Better Make Room, a movement launched by Mrs. Obama to support and inspire students to aim for higher education.


As part of her book tour, Mrs. Obama made it a point that her BECOMING events be accessible to as many people as possible, and not just those with means or who happened to be by a computer when the tickets went on sale. In partnership with Live Nation, Mrs. Obama gave away thousands of complimentary tickets to people around the country, particularly to young people growing up in communities like she did.  Mrs. Obama wanted everyone, especially young people, to see them in her story—to see the value in the fullness of their stories and to imagine who they might become in the years ahead.


As Mrs. Obama spoke in earnest of her youth and life leading up to the White House, many students nodded their heads in agreement as she shared her experiences, laughed at her jokes and candid responses, and were mesmerized by her words.  It was truly a moment those in attendance will never forget and will also be inspired by.




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.

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


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.

Opportunities are Knocking

When Gilbert and I started Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera five years ago, we were committed to bringing in resources to prepare and inspire El Rancho students to reach for a higher education. We’re just as committed to this mission as we were in 2013 and are encouraged when we hear other celebrities and entrepreneurs also committed to first-generation students, including DACA students.

In January, we applauded and thanked Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, for donating a $33 million dollar scholarship grant to TheDream.US, which helps highly motivated DREAMers graduate from college. The Cisneros Foundation has been long-time supporters of the Bezos’ friends Henry Munoz and Don Graham, co-founders of TheDream.US. As you can imagine, we are beyond thrilled that this grant will give thousands of undocumented immigrant graduates of US high schools with DACA status the opportunity to go to college.

The Bezos donation affirms that the work we are doing–starting with the Kindergarten book giveaway all the way to the Generation 1st Degree programs at El Rancho High School–are a true need not only in the community of Pico Rivera, but across the nation. We 100% care about our students’ college pathway. Not only do we worry about making sure they have the resources and mentorships to guide each student to college, but the support they need to help them succeed once they get there.


Jacki Cisneros at Generation First Degree Pico Rivera’s “A Day in Space” in 2017.

When I think of G1DPR, one of the things that makes Gilbert and I proud is the network of current members and alums the G1DPR program is building. When I talk to former students or when we feature them in our newsletter or social media, it feels so great to know that future G1DPR students–those who are juniors in high school and younger–will have a large body of G1DPR graduates to reach out to for advice and encouragement. As a community, we can achieve a college degree in EVERY Pico Rivera home, regardless of income, immigration status or if you’re the first in your family to head to college. I know many of our senior students are researching and applying for scholarships. Keep up the good work! There is opportunity waiting to help each and every one of you get to college.

Jacki Cisneros

The Road Ahead

Congratulations to all of the seniors who successfully completed and submitted their college applications. I know that you all put in a lot of extra time and effort to make sure that each of your applications will stand out, and I applaud you for your dedication. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back and breathe a sigh of relief, but don’t get too relaxed because your next major task is up to bat.

What I’m referring to are scholarships and lots of them. We all know that the costs of college can be shocking, but there are many scholarships out there that can help cushion the cost and supplement financial aid. Don’t let financial hardship prevent you from going to your dream college.

Starting in December, it’s important for all of you to start researching and applying for scholarships. The perfect mix would be to apply for a combination of smaller $250-$500 scholarships, as well as larger ones that are $1,000 and more. The more you apply for, the better chance you’ll have at securing funds for your college tuition. I recommend applying for at minimum FIFTEEN scholarships. However, applying to 20 to 25 scholarships would really show your commitment to getting to college and not having to worry too much about financial assistance. Remember, every dollar adds up.

There are many resources to help you with the process. If you need help getting started, please see Michelle Sandoval for guidance. There are many websites that can help guide you, such as College Greenlight. The key to scholarships is to be creative in finding the right ones for you. There’s a scholarship for almost every hobby, sport, characteristic, ethnicity and more.

While it may feel like applications and essays are taking over your life at the moment, just know that the hard work you put in now will save you from the stress and worry later. Go, DONS!

Jacki Cisneros

Congratulations to G1DPR Program Manager Michelle Sandoval

Congratulations to Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera Program Manager, Michelle Sandoval, who was recently selected as a Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction by the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS). As a role model to the students at El Rancho High School, Michelle was nominated for outstanding dedication to excellence in the profession.

Michelle has been working diligently with our current senior class. Just this past month she held several workshops to make sure students completed and submitted their college applications on time. Through Michelle’s leadership at El Rancho High School, Generation 1st Degree is helping students maintain a successful pathway to college. We checked in with a few ERHS alum in their freshman year to see how Generation 1st Degree has helped them survive college life so far.

G1DPR’s programs, and Michelle helped me perfect my college essays. I think that greatly helped me in getting into my dream college. G1DPR’s programs also helped me understand FAFSA and the financial part about applying to college. After I was accepted, Michelle connected me with people on my campus who now have even helped me get a job. Michelle’s dedication is one main reason why I was able to get a full scholarship and get into my dream school. I’m very grateful to Generation 1st Degree and Michelle for our academic relationship.
–Marcela Cisneros, Stanford

G1DPR definitely put me numerous steps ahead of the game and made me feel confident in my abilities. Michelle was a great leader and friend to all, which made the process a lot less intimidating!
— Jocelyn Estrada, CSU Fullerton


College has been crazy. I’ve been able to handle it because G1DPR prepared me for the reality of being on my own. I’m responsible and proactive in my first year of college, which has helped me become comfortable as a student at UCSD.
—Armando Godoy – Velasquez, UCSD

Michelle Sandoval really helped me to prepare for college by constantly reminding me to manage my time. So far this has helped me stay on top of my work.
–Daniel Martinez, UC Davis


G1DPR helped me mentally prepare myself for college, especially on how hard it was going to be and how much hard work we would have to put in. The guest speakers who came to talk to us about the college experience and answer our questions, really gave me a realistic idea about how it was going to be.
Because of G1DPR, I feel I’m a more responsible and productive person and I thank you all for that.
–Jazly Rojas, CSU-Fresno

How Focusing on a Sport or Hobby can Help Prepare You for Your Future

We’ve all been told that colleges love to see extracurricular activities on applications. While it looks great that you’ve dedicated years to an activity while maintaining your grades, there are also greater benefits you receive from focusing and practicing a sport or hobby.

El Rancho High School Band’s Head Drum Major, Angelica Ojeda, and Assistant Drum Major, Andrew Sepulveda have been in band since the 6th grade. They have dedicated the last seven years balancing band practice and their academics, and as seniors preparing for college, they’re recognizing that the benefits to being in band is more than just a checkbox on their college applications.

“Being in band has always been part of my life, “ Angelica said. “The connections you make with your friends in band becomes part of you…you’re with them almost 24/7 so you have to get use to them and work with them.”

Angelica admits that she’s not one to make an effort to make new friends, but as the Head Drum Major it’s important for her to show her leadership by becoming friends with the new band members, finding out what type of person they are and being there to guide them.

“As a Drum Major you’re always being taught new skills, be it a new instrument or conducting, and when you mess up you need the perseverance to keep trying to get it right. Even if you get yelled at for your mistake, you have to take that feedback and push forward.”

Every week Andrew has a commitment to the band that takes up time and discipline. He finds his role as Assistant Drum Major enjoyable and has learned how to balance when to work hard and when to play hard.

“When it’s rehearsal time I know that I have to be disciplined with my task,” said Andrew. “When you’re friends with everyone in the band, sometimes you have this fear of not wanting to tell them to stop talking or messing around, but I have to in order for the group to move forward and advance through the season. But when it’s break time, I know that’s when we can relax for a moment and mess around.”

Andrew says that being in band has also helped him to become a confident public speaker, not only during practice but also during class time.

“Band has given me better communication skills. I’m the messenger from the band director to the band so I cannot be shy. You have to learn how to be out spoken. A lot of people have this stigma of being wrong or different, but I’m not afraid to speak up in class. Even if I’m wrong, I know that I’m presenting my ideas and what I believe.”

Leadership, perseverance, discipline and communication are all vital qualities Angelica and Andrew have gained through their commitment to band. But beyond high school and even college, these are skills that are highly desirable and expected in any work industry. By dedicating your time, passion for the sport/hobby and exercising the discipline it takes to work under pressure in a group setting, you’re giving yourself a head start on being successful in your career.