Against All Odds: First-Generation Latino College Students Share Many of the Same Attributes That Lead to Academic Success, Research Shows

By Mendoza, Veronica | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, October 20, 2005 | Go to article overview

Against All Odds: First-Generation Latino College Students Share Many of the Same Attributes That Lead to Academic Success, Research Shows


Mendoza, Veronica, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


While a graduate student at Stanford University, Veronica Mendoza conducted research on six Latino students from a troubled high school in San Jose, Calif. The school, located in a crime- and poverty-riddled neighborhood, is predominately Latino. Some of the students may go on to community college at best after graduation. Mendoza found that those students who did not attend college took on low-paying jobs and ultimately lived under the same conditions of poverty as their parents. Those that attended college usually had the benefit of an older sibling who had gone to college as well.

Following are the stories of three students from the study who are beating the odds and are now students at San Jose State University.

Elizabeth Chavarin

Public Relations Major

Since elementary school, Elizabeth Chavarin's parents have told her that education is the key to success in the United States.

"My dad always tells us you don't want to work or end up like me, working as a laborer, having people tell you what to do," she says. "My parents would tell me you need to go to school and get a degree so you can be somebody successful."

Although Chavarin agreed with her parents' advice, she says she performed poorly her first and second years of high school. However, during her junior and senior years, she realized that her grades would have to improve if she wanted to go to college.

Chavarin's parents weren't the only ones guiding her down the college path. An older sister who graduated from San Jose State in 2004 inspired her with stories of what college life was like. And her high school's Puente counselor, Irma Morales (see sidebar on Puente program) kept the thought of college in Chavarin's mind by keeping her apprised of university admission requirements.

Chavarin is currently an intern for the Spanish television station, Telemundo, and will graduate in May 2006. Her career goals include being the host of an entertainment or music television show.

Roger Moreno

Business Major

As a high school student, Roger Moreno felt that the majority of his teachers didn't care whether he succeeded.

"The way I saw it was most of the teachers--they really don't care about the students," Moreno says. But he recognized that at least a few of those teachers believed in his abilities and encouraged him to pursue a college education. Like many &his fellow high school classmates, Moreno's parents emigrated from Mexico. He says his parents were very encouraging in terms of his education, and although his mother could not speak English, she would find ways to communicate with his counselors and teachers.

"My mom wasn't able to speak English, but she would always find someone that could speak Spanish, like Mrs. Morales," the Puente counselor at the high school and an instrumental force in encouraging him go to college. The counselor kept Moreno on track to meet college requirements. Like Chavarin, Moreno had an older sister in college to look up to. He credits his sister, a graduate student at Santa Clara University, with keeping him motivated to overcome the hardships in his neighborhood.

"Our sister was a really good role model for all of us," Moreno says. "If she would have been a rebellious teenager, I don't think any of us would have gone to college."

Rafael Solorio

Justice Studies Major

Rafael Solorio's parents came to the United States from Michoacan, Mexico, during the 1980s in search of better opportunities for their family. They opened a gardening business not long after settling in the United States. His parents encouraged their nine children to pursue a college education, despite the fact that they did not have the information necessary to aid them through the college application process. Because his parents could not provide him with the tools necessary to pursue college, Solorio's older sister, who attended San Jose State, played a key role in his decision to pursue a college degree.

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