Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

Maria Olson

Maria Olson

Name: Maria Olson

Hometown: All over Northern California, but mostly the Bay Area and San Jose. I moved so much I went to a new school every year from kindergarten through 6th grade.

Role on campus: Advisor in the Financial Aid and Scholarship Office. I’m also a part-time grad student.

Years on campus: 11

Did you or do you have plans to continue your education beyond a four-year degree? Yes, I am currently a part-time grad student in the communication studies program. I am utilizing the fee waiver benefit and have three semesters left. My main area of interest is in intercultural communication. In 2015, I was able to study abroad in Cuba over spring break with a Chico State faculty and staff professional development group, and it helped me realize how much I love traveling and sharing with other people and cultures.

Why did you choose Chico? I love Northern California, and the fact that Chico was not too big, and not too small really appealed to me. I also have family in the area. I attended Butte College first, then transferred to Chico State and majored in international relations. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in May 1995.

What first sparked your interest in a college education? I always planned to go to college. My mom always encouraged it—even expected it. She got her two-year degree from Butte College, and took some classes beyond that in the Bay Area, but unfortunately was not able to earn her four-year degree.

What were some barriers that prevented others in your family from completing a four-year degree? Having to work and earn money instead of being able to attend school. Losing momentum and faith in oneself.

Who can you point to as a mentor or inspiration in your pursuit of a four-year degree and why? Besides my mom expecting me to attend college, I had an honors history teacher in high school, David DalPorto, who made me realize how much I loved learning. He was so dynamic and drew the whole class in to whatever era we were focused on. He really brought history to life. He believed in me before I believed in myself and helped me see a path from high school to college. He encouraged me to apply for scholarships, and to a program at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, during the summer before my senior year, where I attended for six weeks, earned some college credits, and got a taste of college life.

What does being first-gen mean to you? It means I have a responsibility to help pave the way for others who are first-gen too.

What challenges do you struggle with or have you overcome as a result of being first-gen? I definitely struggle with imposter syndrome, still to this day. As an undergrad, I didn’t see another way to finance my education than to work a lot—I basically worked full time, between two and sometimes three jobs at a time. As a result, my grades were not what I hoped them to be. I also wish that I would have found a way to study abroad while I was an undergrad. I thought I couldn’t afford it, but I now know that financial aid can help with that. So now I try to encourage the first-gen students I advise to consider studying abroad.

What is your wildest ambition? To complete my master’s degree in communication studies, and to study abroad again before I complete my program or again in the near future. I have two sons, aged 14 and 8. I want both of them to love learning, to attend college, and hopefully study abroad.

What message do you want to send other first-gen students? You can do it. You deserve the full college experience. You belong here too.