Perseverance. Grit. Determination. These are three common traits of the students who make up the Dell Scholars Program. Our students have overcome many obstacles in their lives from homelessness to single-parent homes to financial insecurity, to name a few. But they rise to these challenges and find ways to overcome them to make it to and through college.
Dell Scholar Alejandra Cortes is no exception. Alejandra faced adversity from a young age that might have derailed her from achieving her dream of earning her college degree. Now, as a graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Alejandra can proudly reflect on her journey through high school and college knowing she overcame a lot to get there.
Meet Alejandra Cortes
Alejandra was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and then moved with her family to the United States when she was five years old. With a single mother and two siblings, Alejandra grew up with little money for necessities like food and housing, and she had to work long hours to help provide for her family. “I come from a single-parent home where I didn’t have the luxury of just concentrating on school,” she says. Along with financial hardships, Alejandra and her siblings faced abuse in the home that resulted in Child Protective Services removing her siblings. Even so, Alejandra knew that with hard work, she could make it to college and that with a college degree, she could break the cycle of poverty in her family.
To college and beyond
Despite those challenges, Alejandra never faltered when it came to her school work, and she graduated high school at the top of her class. But once she began the transition into college, she was forced to move into a women’s shelter with her mother to escape the abuse at home. With the help of the Dell Scholars Program, Alejandra was eventually able to enroll in college close to home, and move closer to campus.
But with so much responsibility and a part-time job, it wasn’t always easy for Alejandra to stay focused on school. Early in her college career, Alejandra’s brother was diagnosed with disorganized schizophrenia, and she became responsible for supporting him. All of this took an emotional and financial toll on Alejandra and her family.
All these challenges in her first semester gave Alejandra a few learnings that would help her become a straight-A student, President of UTSA’s National Criminal Justice Honor Society, and eventually graduate magna cum laude:
- Campus resources are free, and they are essential for student success. Alejandra found that the writing labs and math centers on her campus were great for tutoring, and helping her manage her heavy course load.
- Most professors have office hours, or are willing to be flexible with your schedule if you need help outside of class. “I never had anyone guiding me through my classes, so I learned the importance of knocking on my professors’ doors when I needed help,” Alejandra said.
- Most importantly, first-generation students are never alone. There are organizations and people on every campus who are there to help with everything students may be experiencing, whether it’s a personal issue or trouble at school. This includes support programs for first-generation students, and free counselling services on some campuses.
The Dell Scholars Program was integral to her success, too. She received advice from the Dell Scholars Program retention officers during their scheduled meetings, and she knew they were there for her when she needed them. In addition, the financial support helped not only to pay for expenses incurred during college, but also to purchase the books she needed for class. “I wouldn’t have been able to get where I am now without the help of the Dell Scholars Program,” she said. “I am beyond grateful to have had their support.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to get where I am now without the help of the Dell Scholars Program,” she said. “I am beyond grateful to have had their support.”
Life beyond college
Now that Alejandra has graduated from college, she is focused on studying for the LSAT and applying to law school. While she hopes to someday work in entertainment law, her main goal is to give back to her community and help others experiencing the same types of challenges she overcame so they can also become college graduates.
“My trajectory has changed immensely because I have an education,” she said. Now, she wants to make sure others who are like her have that same chance.