Oct. 23, 2017Vol. 48, Issue 2

Face-to-Face with First-Gen

The poster for the 1st Generation and Proud awareness campaign to support the first-generation community here at Chico State from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

With more than 50 percent of our students the first generation in their families to complete a four-year degree, this fall the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is launching an awareness campaign to support the first-generation community here at Chico State.

Faculty, staff, and students who are first-generation themselves participated in the campaign, showing their diversity, solidarity, and support of students who are striving toward the same goal. In the September issue, we shared stories of three participants about what it means to be first-gen, and three more share their stories now.


Chela Mendoza PattersonName: Chela Mendoza Patterson

Hometown: Oxnard

Role on Campus: Director, Early Outreach and Support Programs

Years on campus: 34

Did you or do you have plans to continue your education beyond a four-year degree? No. My initial plan was just to get a BA. I didn’t have any idea about graduate degrees until about my third year. Luckily, I had a mentor who explained to me I would need to get an MA if I wanted to work in higher education.

Why did you choose Chico? My husband and I were at the University of Maryland, College Park, pursuing graduate’s degrees. Originally from California, we were trying to get a job back in our home state. Chico State offered him a position at the Counseling Center and about two months later, I was offered a position with the Associated Students.

What first sparked your interest in a college education? I always loved to read and loved school. Although no one in my neighborhood had ever gone to college, it was a dream I had since I was a little girl.

What were some barriers that prevented others in your family from completing a four-year degree? My siblings never seemed to thrive in school like I did. They were turned off to pursuing an education beyond high school.

Who can you point to as a mentor or inspiration in your pursuit of a four-year degree and why? My parents were big proponents of education even though they didn’t go to college. I had one uncle who eventually became an attorney and he was my role model.

What does being first-gen mean to you? Being first-gen means that I achieved a higher education despite not having any idea what that would entail. I am terribly proud of that accomplishment.

What challenges do you struggle with or have you overcome as a result of being first gen? One of the biggest challenges I had as a student was the terrible homesickness I suffered. I think I cried for the first two years every time I had to leave home to come back to school—and I loved school! My parents didn’t really understand what I was studying or what I eventually hoped to do in higher education. As I pursued graduate school, I had to start all over again in terms of understanding how that process worked.

What is your wildest ambition? My wildest ambition was to eventually earn my doctorate in education. I did that in 1998 from University of Southern California.

What message do you want to send other first-gen students? It’s OK to ask for help. Those of us who have already been through this process—not one of us ever achieved our goals by doing things on our own.


Ann SchulteName: Ann Schulte

Hometown: Yankton, South Dakota

Role on Campus: Faculty in the School of Education

Years on campus: 17

Did you or do you have plans to continue your education beyond a four-year degree? I did not plan to continue after I graduated with a BA in Education. I never even thought about getting a PhD until right before I applied for it.

Why did you choose Chico? I loved the people and the place, and when I applied for a job as a professor, I wanted to move near my sisters who had lived in California for many years.

What first sparked your interest in a college education? I was not a very academic student. In high school, I took all the home economics classes I could and only as much math as I had to. Not a single AP course. But I joined debate as a freshman and my debate coach inspired me to keep at it, even though I wasn't particularly good. I learned that it was about developing the skill, not necessarily winning.

What were some barriers that prevented others in your family from completing a four-year degree? We lived in a rural area and I think my parents didn't need a higher education when they were young. They were smart, but not particularly intellectual. Independence was valued, but college wasn't a given.

Who can you point to as a mentor or inspiration in your pursuit of a four-year degree and why? Definitely my debate coach and my fellow debaters. They all went on to be doctors and lawyers, and I went into teaching so I could coach debate.

What does being first-gen mean to you? It means that I didn't grow up talking about current events or discussing academic subjects. I had relatively low expectations for my educational advancement.

What challenges do you struggle with or have you overcome as a result of being first gen? I still feel like I'm not that "book smart" even though I have a PhD. I have never taken calculus or art history. I don't ever get references to Voltaire.

What is your wildest ambition? To be a part of preserving the true purpose of public education for the common good.

What message do you want to send other first-gen students? Persistence is key.


Ana Cany Mejia CortesName: Ana Cany Mejia Cortes

Hometown: Santa María, California

Major: I graduated with bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and Latin America Studies in 2017.

Years on campus: I transferred from a community college in my hometown called Allan Hancock College in 2015 and graduated this May.

Did you or do you have plans to continue your education beyond a four-year degree? I am currently attending University of Nevada, Reno, to get my master’s degree in Spanish.

Why did you choose Chico? I went to Chico because it was a small university and I thought it was going to be better and easier to meet my professors and be able to have a connection with them. I also went to Chico because a Spanish teacher I had in high school would always talk about Chico and how great her experience was, so I wanted to have the same experience.

What first sparked your interest in a college education? I just knew that I wanted to do more than my parents did. I wanted to let my parent know that all the sacrifices they made to come to the United States were not taken for granted and that I was going to take every opportunity to make them proud.

What were some barriers that prevented others in your family from completing a four-year degree? Because my stepfather could not work due to medical sickness, my other brother had to work to support the family and he was not able to go to school. For my other brother, he did attend high school for a year or so but had to drop off because my older brother could not keep up with all the bills for the house. 

Who can you point to as a mentor or inspiration in your pursuit of a four-year degree and why? My biggest inspiration was my stepfather. Ever since I can remember, he was always sick and in the hospital but he never gave up. He fought until the end and he always told me that I had to go to school, to be someone in life and to be able to live my life to the fullest and to reach my potential. As of today, my mentor is Tracey Cearley, one of the many nurses my stepfather had. He has helped me in the process of applying to college, and has guided me and sometimes convinced me that I can do whatever I set my mind to. All I have to do is put my heart into it and work hard, and I will get there. 

What does being first-gen mean to you? For me, first-generation means proving to my parents and siblings that it is possible to get an education and be someone in life. It also means that all the sacrifices that my family have done are worth it, and it also means that I am opening the door for future generations to show them that if I did it, they can do it as well. It also means a better future, not just for me but for my family. Lastly, it means hard work and dedication because one has to open her own way.

What challenges do you struggle with or have you overcome as a result of being first gen? The biggest struggles is to believe that I do belong here and that I have reached the goals I have reached because I deserve them and because I have earned them and have worked hard for them. Another struggle is being able to leave your family and engage in a new experience all on your own.

What is your wildest ambition? To publish a book in Spanish. And to be able to one day buy my mother and my two brothers each a house as a way to repay them for all the sacrifices they made for me.

What message do you want to send other first-gen students? That no matter how difficult the situation looks, if you put your heart and dedication into something, you can overcome anything.

WE ARE DIFFERENT. WE ARE TOGETHER. #WEARECHICO

#WeAreChico

It is our pleasure to introduce our wonderful community, one human at a time. We may be different, but we are together. Read more

CalFresh Day, a half-ton of fresh produce was given to students and a large canned food donation was made to the Wildcat Pantry.

CalFresh Day

During CalFresh Day, a half-ton of fresh produce was given to students along with an enormous canned food donation to the Hungry Wildcat Food Pantry!      Watch video