When twenty-two year-old Thatiana Diaz was named Miss New York USA 2015 in January, it wasn’t her first crowning moment. A child of Dominican immigrants raised in Queens, N.Y., Diaz graduated Magna Cum Laude from Pace University in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies—becoming the first in her family to earn a college degree.

“College wasn’t easy, and it was very overwhelming,” says Diaz. “But thankfully, listening and learning from others, especially my peers and advisers, I was able to graduate in four years.”

Diaz is passionate about education and hopes to empower other young people who don’t have a family history of higher education or easy access to support services to help them reach their education goals. That’s why she selected nonprofit Center for Student Opportunity (CSO) and CSO’s I’m First! campaign as her “charity of choice” while gearing up for the Miss USA 2015 pageant that airs live nationally on Sunday, July 12 at 8 p.m. EST/7 p.m. CST live on REELZ Channel (DISH Network 299, DIRECTV 238, Comcast 161, Verizon 233, RCN HD 594).

As a national spokesperson for CSO, Diaz is encouraging other first-generation college students and graduates to share their personal stories on ImFirst.org as part of a growing video campaign aimed at inspiring future first-generation college students. She’s also raising money for the I’m First! Scholarship and speaking to students at local schools and youth-serving organizations.

“Thatiana epitomizes why it’s so special being a first-generation college student,” said CSO’s Executive Director Matt Rubinoff. “With perseverance, hard work, and asking for help, she beat the odds to make it to and through college and is a shining example to others that they can too.”

Diaz previously held the titles Miss República Dominicana U.S. 2013 and Miss New York Teen USA 2010, making her only the second Miss New York Teen USA to also claim the Miss title.

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Additional information about Thatiana can be found at http://missnewyorkusa.com/miss-new-york-usa-2015/

Hear Thatiana’s I’m First! story: http://www.imfirst.org/stories

Visit Thatiana’s fundraising page for the I’m First! Scholarship: http://thatiana.imfirst.org