This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
A Choice My Parents Didn’t Have
When I was growing up, my parents said two things to me that I will never forget: “America is a land of opportunity,” and “Education is the key to success.” My parents would have loved to have gone to college, but they did not get the opportunity to go because it was beyond their reach financially. Regardless of our circumstances, my parents knew the value of education, and that is why they sacrificed their own time, comfort, happiness and dreams to make sure that my future held brighter prospects and more security than their own. They have invested their lives trying to make their own children successful. They want me to be happy, not worried about the future.
I came to the U.S. at age 7. Growing up, I understood the value of education, as my family ingrained into me the idea that education would give me the opportunity and the mobility to become whatever I want. My parents never had such a choice as kids.
Becoming a Student Leader
As a first-generation college student at Rutgers Business School (RBS) – Newark, I faced many hurdles in the beginning, from understanding the college application process to navigating the journey as a college student. Fortunately, I was part of the Rutgers Newark Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) family, which caters to first-generation college students. The EOF family helped me during a six-week intensive summer program before my first semester in college, a program which gave me first-hand exposure to college courses and provided me with guidance from my academic advisers. This part of my experience gave me a strong foundation to start my freshman year; I ended up being on the dean’s list for the next nine semesters, and even became the president of the Dean’s Advisory Council, which is part of the business school.
As president, I worked with the dean of RBS to implement new ideas, such as a program to buy and sell books; I also worked to foster a positive environment by working in cooperation with other clubs to sponsor events for students. My involvement as a student leader was a great experience through which I was able to develop my skills as a leader and give back to the community.
Molded by Mentors
Academically all was going well, but I was not aware of the need to navigate a career path for myself as I had no family members with whom I could discuss the various steps that I needed to take beyond the college learning experience. In order for someone to succeed, a strong support system is needed, and I am grateful that I was able to find one through New Jersey Needs You (NJNY), a nonprofit organization that connects ambitious first-generation college students with professional mentors from industries in which these students are interested. This organization also provides professional development over a span of two years through workshops in areas such as leadership, communication and teamwork. This was the key piece of my college journey: it helped me personally and professionally, and eventually led me to realize my career aspirations.
This opportunity also allowed me to communicate with my mentors and hear their stories. It was a rich experience because these mentors were open when they shared their stories and gave me constructive feedback on areas in which I could improve. My mentors and the NJNY staff kept me motivated throughout my journey, which gave me the confidence to see a dramatic change in myself during the program.
I learned a lot through communicating with my mentors, and even built relationships with them that will outlast the two-year span of the NJNY program; the employees and mentors at NJNY are a lifelong support group of peers and mentors, always there to give me advice when needed. NJNY was there for me: it provided me with an environment where I interacted with many professionals across a diverse community, gave me the opportunity to grow and allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone through professional development. I was always driven to such opportunities that would allow me to develop, as I am very proactive in my effort to learn as much as possible.
In the end, my journey through college was a success, not only because I got a job offer, but also because I know that I developed into a young leader and will continue to learn from my peers and mentors at NJNY. I am grateful for the support I received from the programs in which I took part, and for their contributions to my journey as a first-generation college student. I am the young professional I am today due to my experiences, and I have made my family proud as a result of my accomplishments!
A New View of Failure
Mentorship is key in fostering a young individual; it provides many opportunities for students—from learning from someone else’s experience and insight to obtaining constructive feedback in overcoming obstacles. My mentors were caring and provided me with invaluable experiences from which I learned. They truly had a significant impact on my progress in my career; for example, my mentors told me to be more aggressive in pursuing the goals I want to accomplish. They wanted me to take risks, as they believed that failure is a learning experience that will only make me stronger, and that I should continue keeping my head up no matter what obstacles I have to face. Because of the guidance I received from my mentors, I was able to become a stronger person.
This idea of failure as a stepping stone to success was the game changer in my life. I learned that being aggressive with a positive attitude will only help me boost my confidence, and I started to be more proactive in networking, learning about different careers and talking to professionals to learn how I could better myself. Along the way, I did encounter failures, but I kept my head up and learned from these experiences so that they would not happen again. My mentors were a great supportive team; I always came to them for guidance, and they were helpful in pointing out where I needed to improve.
Success is for Anyone
I am proud to say that I defeated the odds even though I was a first-generation student. My education was the key to my success because it showcased me as an ambitious individual who wants to learn and give back to the community by one day mentoring someone in the same shoes as I was. Regardless of background, education allows anyone in America to be successful, and I was able to seize this opportunity through connecting with supportive programs and proactively grasping for success.
Success is for anyone who wants to grasp it. I realized early on that having an education will open opportunities. “America is the land of opportunity,” and I was able to succeed in college—both academically and professionally—through supportive programs (EOF and NJNY) and by working hard and never giving up.