First-gen ASU student becomes community mentor
Former Dorrance Scholar finds passion in helping new first-generation students go to college
According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, a third of college students are the first in their families to pursue a bachelor’s degree, which is no small feat.
Statistically, these students are more likely to face financial challenges due to a lower parental incomeaccording to U.S. Department of Education data released in 2018 than continuing-generation students. They are also less likely to graduate in four years, owing to many reasons, from lacking additional support in successfully navigating college to the social isolation that can come with being educational pioneers in their families.
It can be difficult not having the proper guidance from family members since they are not well-versed in the intricacies of the college experience.
Sun Devil and first-generation graduate Yazmin Reyes knows exactly how this feels.
As a daughter of Mexican immigrants, Reyes has often felt “ni de aqui, ni de alla,” which means “neither from here nor from there.” Her family encouraged her to pursue higher education but to attend a university directly after high school graduation, additional funds through financial aid were needed.
With the help of the Dorrance Scholarship, which is designed specifically for first-generation students, and the ASU Leadership Scholarship Program, which is designed for students looking to make a difference in their communities, Reyes earned herself an open door to create her own sense of identity and purpose at Arizona State University.
While Reyes had wonderful scholarships and a loving family to get her through college, it still wasn’t easy feeling alone.
“In principle, it was great to know I had their moral support,” she said. “In practice, being a first-generation college student is extremely difficult because you don’t feel like you have people that can relate to what you’re going through.”
Reyes pushed through, but it was “a group effort” full of the uncertainties that come with self-discovery. As someone passionate about helping young people succeed, she began as an education major but soon discovered that teaching wasn’t for her. After changing majors to family and human development at the suggestion of her scholarship coordinator, she never looked back.
Not everyone understood her choice of major, however, because “it wasn’t a terminal degree in the way people who study engineering go on to become engineers,” she said. “But the beauty of that is this program teaches you transferable skills necessary to be successful in any profession.”
Several years after undergrad, Reyes earned her MEd in school counseling and is now the assistant director of recruitment for ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She spends every day using her personal experiences to help first-generation high school students see their own potential to pursue higher education. As a student who felt inspired by watching other people achieve their goals, she describes it as a “full-circle experience” with “endless opportunities to help others.”
Life as a first-generation student wasn’t easy, but Reyes made it through and has a fulfilling career. After graduation, she worked for ASU Admission Services, where she created first-of-its-kind programming designed to help prospective first-generation college students at ASU.
“Happenstance brought me into the recruitment world in higher education, but now I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I’m at the intersection of helping people explore what their professional dreams are, providing college-going support to underrepresented communities, and empowering people to pursue higher education,” she said.
The Sun Devil also leveraged her experience and talents when she was a participant of the Obama Foundation’s Community Leadership Corps, where she developed a high school achievement program called Soñadoras, in addition to previously being a volunteer mentor with Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
“I truly have found my passion in life helping others,” Reyes said.