Vanessa Juarez Morales '21

Vanessa Juarez MoralesMajor: Nursing, Spanish minor

What was it like being among the first in your family to go to college?

Being the first in my family to go to college has been my greatest accomplishment so far. Both of my parents are from Oaxaca, Mexico, and they weren’t even able to attend high school, because they had to work to help their families. I feel extremely blessed to be here and I am humbled by the great opportunities I have now. Getting here took a lot of hard work and sacrifice during my teen years. It’s been difficult because I have had to navigate a lot of areas that I didn’t know much about, and I had to learn how to get out of my comfort zone. From my experience as a first gen student, one of the most important things I learned is that in order to grow you must get out of your comfort zone and be okay with struggling. I think having a great support system and being part of a program that helps first-gen students through the college process helped me immensely. I definitely had doubts and fears along the way but knowing the value of an education always inspired me to continue persevering. My parents always emphasized how important an education is and I think I really understood it because I saw how they worked so hard to give my sister and I the opportunities they didn’t. Now that I am in college I feel really blessed and optimistic for the future because I will be able to set a different path for future generations of my family.

What does it mean for your personally to be a part of the FGEN community and, specifically, to be a FGEN student ambassador?

To me, being part of the FGEN community means a sense of belonging and unconditional support. It means connections and celebrating diversity so that everyone feels welcomed here at UP. To be a FGEN student ambassador is a privilege and I am super excited to give all my support to other first-gen students. This means that I can share my experiences with others, listen to others’ stories, encourage them, and help them advocate for themselves.

What is your advice to FGEN students at UP who are facing challenges?

My advice is to practice self-care and to actively seek help/support to face your challenges. College within itself is stressful enough, and being first gen can make it even more challenging, so taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally is super important! Always believe in yourself and recognize your worth and potential. On the other hand, seeking help with regard to school is also important when facing challenges. Learn about the resources on campus and reach out to them! Know that it's okay to struggle and you are not alone.

Did a mentor play a role in your experience?

I have had many mentors throughout my experience. My college counselors back home helped me tremendously. They helped me apply to college and were also available for support during my first year even if I was more than 1,000 miles away. Here at UP, I found myself going to faculty and staff that were first gen because I could talk to them about my challenges and they are able to relate on a personal level. I make appointments with them just to catch up on how my semester is going, and it might seem simple, but it actually means a lot to me because I see how they have been successful, and how they believe in me, and it is just a great feeling. I have also been extremely grateful for Matt the coordinator of the FGEN program because he is very welcoming, easy to talk to, and gives lots of helpful guidance.

What resources have been significant, meaningful or helpful for you so far during your UP experience?

I was in the FGEN program my freshman year and it was very meaningful because I was able to meet new people and feel validated when I was feeling out of place. The events are also fun to attend and allow you to expand your support system. I have also used the tutoring services, writing center, and general advising from the Shepard Academic Resource Center (SARC). Personally, making appointments through the SARC with any of their advisors has been very meaningful to me because they are familiar with the challenges students face, they listen, and offer support. Attending office hours has also helped a lot because I have been able to get to know my professors more, get their feedback, and apply that to my performance in their class.