The Pride Project: First-Generation Students

This week’s Pride Project post is honoring our first generation students at Gonzaga. On your Instagram and twitter use our HASHTAG: #PrideProject to show your pride and get the conversation started about topics that go undiscussed.

Have PRIDE in being a first generation student!

FullSizeRender-6According to Gonzaga, nearly 20 percent of Gonzaga freshman are first-generation college students. Gonzaga defines first-generation college students as “those who do not have a parent with a bachelor’s degree.”

The three students below outline the struggles that most first-generation students go through.

Some of these difficulties are…

  • Having parents that aren’t familiar with the college experience
  • The feeling of not belonging amongst privileged students
  • The stereotypes that are put on them based on their background
  • And the biggest difficulty of all: Financial aid

Although first-generation students have to beat the odds, they learn valuable lessons like…

  • Independence
  • Responsibility
  • Drive
  • Courage
  • And Confidence

Lets look into the lives of three amazing first-generation students at GU.

Marilyn Melgoza


Hometown: Walla Walla, Washington

Major: Sociology and Criminology

Marilyn’s dream is to open a non-profit organization for children of migrant and low-income families. Her experience being a first-generation student has shaped her view of the world and how she views herself. She said, “I think the fact that I am a student of color is an important aspect of my journey because going to a school where I am the minority due to my ethnicity has led to me appreciate and embrace my Mexican-American culture more than before.” Her confidence in her identity allows her to embrace her journey as a first-generation student and be a role model for her family and friends. “My parents tell me that I am the example for my brothers and they are glad that I going to college because this is inspiring them to also pursue a higher education,” said Marilyn. Her parents have always told her that her education is something that no one can take away from her. With encouragement from her parents and her participation in the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, Marilyn made it to Gonzaga. “AVID helped me apply to college and scholarships, but the difficulty was when I had to explain the steps of the college process to my parents because they didn’t understand what I was doing,” said Marilyn, “It was like I was being taught the skills at school and at home I had to become the teacher and show my parents what I needed to do to get things done.” This experience matured Marilyn and taught her the value in determination. Without parents who knew the basics of the college application process, Marilyn had to reach out to other resources like AVID and councilors. Her success at Gonzaga as a Latina is a testament to her hard work and drive to reach her dreams. First-generation students are at such a large disadvantage, that their ability to graduate college is an amazing accomplishment. According to I’, first-generation students drop out of college four times as much as students whose parents when to college.

As a student financially responsible for her education, there has been some difficulty in getting bills on time. “I have to admit that it does get difficult for my family when they know I can’t pay my monthly installments and they can’t help me out either,” said Marilyn. “These occurred quite often last years, to the point where they were telling me to transfer to a public school because it would be cheaper to attend.” Having enough money to pay for college is the biggest issue for first-generation students. Marilyn has to pay for her car, school, phone and other bills while learning to balance work, school, clubs, family and friends. Through the UMEC department and the BRIDGE program at Gonzaga, Marilyn has felt very supported and met some of her best friends. The sense of belonging is difficult for some first-generation students to acquire because they come from such a drastically different background and upbringing than the majority of students at universities. Marilyn said, “There have been a few times that I have felt uncomfortable at GU because I know that they majority of the students at Gonzaga aren’t first generation or students of color, so I know that unless they try to understand my background we can’t connect.”

Susie Lira


Hometown: Lamar, Colorado

Major: Mechanical Engineering

If there was one word to describe Susie, it would be independent. “My parents don’t pay for a single thing of mine. I pay for my own gas, insurance, groceries, and phone,” said Susie. With her determination to go to college, Susie applied for every scholarship she could find. As a Coca Cola Scholar, a recipient of the Ignatian Leaders Scholarship and recipient of institutional aid, Susie came to Gonzaga all on her own. “My parents dropped me off at the airport and I was off with two huge suitcases,” said Susie. Susie’s father encouraged her to go to college even though he himself had only a third grade education. She didn’t have parents who she could go to ask about SATs or how to apply to college. Susie had to break out of her comfort zone and find resources outside of her family to get to college. Now at Gonzaga, Susie is an Ambassador and part of the Comprehensive Leadership Program, two very competitive programs on campus. When asked about what surprised her about college she responded, “I can never understand why people miss class. Somebody is paying for us to be at Gonzaga or we are ourselves.” As a first-generation student, Susie knows what it means to be truly responsible for her future. As if being an engineer and leader at Gonzaga wasn’t enough for Susie, last summer she conducted biomechanical research at Ohio State University.

Her achievements must be put into perspective, because with all her success, it’s easy to forget that her father only completed third grade and mother went up to tenth grade. Susie’s childhood wasn’t like other students’ at Gonzaga and that’s why her success is such an accomplishment. She learned at a young age that the only way to get something is to work hard for it herself because no one else was going to give it to her. Because she had to work so hard for what she has, she wants to be a role model for other first-generation students. Her hero is her sister who recently graduated from Regis University and has always been Susie’s role model in life.

Being a first-generation student is tough, but it gives you tools that no other students can receive. Students like Susie learn the value is being independent and self-sufficient knowing that they are pioneers in their family and setting an example for others to follow. “My journey of getting to college was one thing, but finishing will be another thing that will be one of my biggest accomplishments in life,” said Susie.

Ruben Ruvalcaba


Hometown: East Palo Alto, California

Major: Mechanical Engineering

As a first-generation student, coming to GU was culture shock in many ways for Ruben. He grew up in a city mostly made up minorities where gunshots were a daily occurrence. He had friends who had been killed and gone to jail. Even though his up bringing was challenging to say the least, it taught him life skills like survival, determination and confidence. Moving from sunny California to Spokane presented other challenges that all students can relate to like the drastic change in weather and separation from family. One of the biggest challenges that Ruben has faced is experiencing stereotype threat. “Stereotype threat is a situational predicament in which one feels at risk of confirming negative stereotypes about their social group,” said Ruben, “Stereotype threat has been shown to reduce the performance of individuals who belong to negatively stereotyped groups.” As a Latino student at Gonzaga, Ruben is constantly defying those stereotypes put on Latinos. He has overcome uncomfortable times when people have treated him differently because of his appearance. “One day I was walking back to my apartment, and an elderly couple were walking passing me. However, as I got closer to them the elderly lady got closer to her husband and held tight onto her purse. Things like this make it difficult for me to feel comfortable.”

As an Engineering student, he is an ambassador for the Latino community who is breaking stereotypes. He’s broken away from what society expects Latinos to do in life. Ruben is a Latino student who is excelling at a private liberal arts university learning computer methods and thermodynamics while his friends and family back home are struggling to make the rent. His dream in life is simple, be able to own a house and have a beautiful family. “And of course be able to buy my parents their own house!” says Ruben. He is proud to be a first-generation student at Gonzaga.

These three students are just a handful of first-generation students at Gonzaga and have proven that with enough drive and determination, anyone can go to college.


Categories: Lifestyle

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2 replies

  1. I don’t mean to be rude, because these students should be extremely proud of their accomplishments. However, every student that has been showcased has been of a Hispanic background. I would love to be able to see students that are white, black, Native American, etc. I know more than 5 other students of other races that are first generation students. I’d love to see more diversity around this topic, because it affects everyone not just a specific group of people.


  2. I agree! I tried to find other students that represent more backgrounds, but I honestly couldn’t find others. It’s no doubt that other races have first-generation students. Thank you for bringing up your want for diversity because I completely agree!


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