For first generation students, the college experience is uncharted territory. Often they face critical decisions about their academic careers without the benefit of advice from family members. And as the first in their families to go to college, they also face an incredible amount of pressure to succeed. Victor, 24, is one such student. A Dell Scholar who will graduate from California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, CA this June, he has had a circuitous, seven-year journey through higher ed.
Dream school admission, then a struggle to acclimatize
When I was 16 my parents moved to Phoenix, AZ but I stayed behind in California with my older sister. I got a job and had a long commute on a bus to my high school . After high school, I went to U.C. Berkeley to study mechanical engineering.
All along I wanted to make my family proud. But it can be hard when you’re surrounded with all the pressure of succeeding and constantly being told, “You can be who you want to be.” After a year, I found myself struggling. I was working extremely hard but not getting the grades I was used to, and I couldn’t fit in to the competitive scene. I began to ask myself if I was ever going to graduate.
Going back home, community college and, ultimately, a third school
Eventually, I left Berkeley. I decided to go back home to a community college because of my low GPA and concerns about money. It was extremely hard to walk away and tell my family I had failed at Berkeley.
Back at home, I was juggling work and classes. My plan plan was to go back to a four year university. After a year, I transferred to California State Polytechnic University-Pomona. I chose it because of its engineering program and its hands on faculty-to-student ratio. It was also nearby. But I continued to question myself. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Finally, I waved the flag and said I needed help.
Support to succeed: Dell Scholars Program & a trusted advisor
When I told the Dell Scholars Program team about my situation their support was huge. We went back and forth on my situation and my options, and they offered support beyond a check. I had to check in with the program after each quarter. That really helped me. It made me reflect on what I was doing. I also sat down with a professor who took the time to listen to me. He showed me the different paths I could take and he said, “If you are going to switch majors because it is easier, don’t switch. Switch if your current major really doesn’t fit.”
That’s when I found industrial engineering. Unlike mechanical engineering, it just clicked. My grades improved.
Success on the horizon
What I feel now is that the journey through college is about finding out about yourself and your capacities. How do you study? Do you take advantage of resources? Can you handle the pressure of asking a question if you don’t understand?
The decisions I made were hard, but now I look back and see that the difficult choices made me who I am. I am very proud of where I am, and I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. My older brother started talking about my graduation the other day. To finish and have my parents be proud of me, that is HUGE! I will have so many opportunities with my industrial engineering degree. Who knows? I may be a chief operating officer one day.