First-generation students find their full potential

(12-10-2014)

First-generation students find their full potential

Being "first" implies some privilege: First-born; a pioneer; first-come, first-served; a winner. First-generation college students certainly appreciate that privilege, but also experience unique challenges.
Those challenges can be financial, academic, or personal. It takes courage to aspire to a higher education without role models who can show what's possible.

First-generation students have always thrived at Adams State, which was founded to serve Colorado's rural communities. Today, one-third of the undergraduate student body is first generation; half of all Hispanic students are first-generation.

Olivia DeHerrera, a senior with a double major in psychology and accounting, said her parents always encouraged her and her siblings to attend college. "But they made it very clear that you need to be responsible for your education and paying for it." A high school valedictorian, DeHerrera earned Adams State's Woodard Scholarship. Combined with her work study jobs on campus, she has only taken minimal student loans.

"Ultimately, I want to work in a Big 4 Accounting Firm," said DeHerrera, who is very involved in the Pacioli Accounting Club and the VITA income-tax service. "I'm really close with all my accounting professors and really respect them."

Ashlee DeHerrera (no relation to Olivia) was awarded the Gates Millennium Foundation Scholarship, which would have allowed her to go to any college in the nation. She chose Adams State. She also received the Daniels Fund Scholarship, but nevertheless held an off-campus job and worked as a sociology tutor through the Grizzly Testing and Learning Center. She joined the campus suicide prevention group, of which she is secretary.

With her sights set on graduate school, the sociology major was selected to present her research on family interactions at Harvard's Ivy Plus Symposium last year.

Abe Rosenberg dropped out of college after his father died of lung cancer. "I had been dabbling in video and theatre - I was originally a science major. I can't tell you how many times I changed majors. I was fed up and didn't plan to come back to school." He went to work with the man who bought his father's chimney sweep business. "That's a good living, but it wasn't about the money. I wanted a job I enjoyed and wanted. My dad's death was a powerful experience."

Rosenberg returned to Adams State just after Grizzly Video was formed. "This the most fun I've ever had," he said, describing his various projects producing music videos, documentaries, and advertising. He manages Grizzly Video, which employees eight other students and populates the campus TV station with student-produced films.

At the end of her freshman year, Leanza Ochoa also lost her father. She became close to Daisy Valdez in Financial Aid, who helped sort out her financial situation. A junior nursing major, she appreciates the support she gained from Oneyda Maestas '93, '06, on-campus advisor for the Denver Scholarship Foundation, and Liz Tabeling-
Garcia '96, '06, with the federal GEAR UP program.

"They touch base with me weekly. They encourage me and help me stay on track. I wasn't expecting the demands of college. It was a big transition," Ochoa said. "When I took my first psychology exam, I thought: 'What am I doing here?' But I learned to study and take notes." She also completed remedial math courses, and achieved admission to the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program this past year.

She plans to return to Denver after graduation. "I've wanted to be a nurse since I was 4 or 5. I had a heart murmur, and I want to work with kids and cardiology."

Jordan Hannebaum moved from Kansas to Castle Rock, Colo., to live with an aunt at age 13, following her mother's death from cancer.
"My mom's death gave me a completely new perspective on life," she said. "It was hard, but it will help me someday."

She gained strength that year through her friendship with a girl with Down's Syndrome. "I fell in love with her. It helped me so much. I also found theatre and a love of the stage."

Hannebaum came to Adams State on the advice of her high school counselor, Sherri Langston '83. She is a theatre/ English major with a special education minor. This past spring, she portrayed a teacher in the ASU Theatre production of The Outsiders.

"I'm not trying to get to Broadway. I have a love for kids. I can't not work with them," she said. "I love being a theatre major. We're one big family."

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