ASU honors 1st-generation college students

Panel shares experiences navigating university at Watts College dinner

April 17, 2023

Irma Carmona’s parents were very proud when they learned she had received a college scholarship, she said — an important step as she was about to become the first in her family to enroll in a university.

But there was one problem. Carmona’s scholarship only covered tuition, a fact she felt she just couldn’t share with her mom and dad. Panelists sit or stand at a Watts College table. Chandra Crudup (from left), Watts College associate dean of inclusive design for equity and access and a social work clinical associate professor, moderates a panel discussion featuring Watts College Director of Academic Services Irma Carmona, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice Professor Jesenia Pizarro and Watts College alumnus Ivan Quintana. Photo by Mark J. Scarp/ASU Download Full Image

Carmona, a member of a panel of first-generation college students who are now Arizona State University faculty, staff and alumni, told her story at a recent First Generation Student Dinner that honored such students’ special pride, challenges and accomplishments.

“My parents were so proud of me that I had got the scholarship that I didn’t have the heart to tell them that it didn’t cover housing. I didn’t want my parents to have to take out a loan for any of that,” said Carmona, the current director of academic services at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, which sponsored the dinner.

“So I reached out to my aunt and asked her if she would be willing to co-sign for a loan, and she did it,” she said.

Carmona said she knew she would have to get a part-time job to repay the loan, which she did. But to this day, her parents still don’t know about the arrangement. Carmona agreed to share the story for this article because her parents are unlikely to read it.

More stories and advice from Carmona and two other panelists at the dinner — representing faculty, staff and alumni — were met with laughs and nods of recognition from attendees, who, like them, went where no one in their families had gone before. The panel was moderated by Watts College Associate Dean for Inclusive Design for Equity and Access Chandra Crudup, who is also an associate professor in the School of Social Work.

Approximately 45% of the Watts College’s 8,000-plus students are the first in their families to attend college. The college resumed its annual event April 6 in downtown Phoenix for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ivan Quintana, who graduated in May 2022 with bachelor’s degrees in both criminology and criminal justice as well as public service and public policy, now works at Mesa Community College, where he attended classes before enrolling at ASU. His focus is TRIO, a group of federally funded programs that assist students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Quintana, whose parents attended school through eighth grade, said he faced many obstacles, starting when he first immigrated from Mexico to the United States at age 18. Fortunately, he said, he was able to emulate older siblings who went to school ahead of him.

Quintana said he remembered arriving in what he thought was appropriate attire for college: a pressed white dress shirt and slacks. His classmates, however, favored a much more casual dress code “in flip-flops and shorts.”

Finances were another major challenge, he said.

“People weren’t kidding around when they called me a broke college student,” Quintana said, recalling how he nearly dropped out during his first semester, telling his mother he might have to delay his graduation and work full time for a while.

“She had a little rainy day fund, and she sent me $500,” he said. “So I was able to buy books for the semester, put down a payment on my tuition, and I even could pay for a haircut, (as) I couldn’t afford it. Not much has changed,” he said with a laugh, pointing to his hair.

Professor Jesenia Pizarro of the Watts-based School of Criminology and Criminal Justice talked about being conflicted over a decision to transfer universities.

Pizarro said she was admitted into college via the Educational Opportunity Program. She was unaware of how tuition worked and only applied to one nearby private university, which was suggested by her high-school guidance counselor.

Once she started classes, she realized the tuition was $12,000 a year without housing, and that she could not afford to pay it. She recounted having to work full time and still needing her parents to chip in for tuition with the little they had, despite the scholarship and financial aid. Later, she heard from a friend attending a nearby public institution, which also admitted EOP students, that she could attend for about one-third of what she was currently paying.

“I remember going to my advisor (at the first school), and I explained to her my problem, and that I needed to transfer,” Pizarro said. “She looked at me and shamed me, and said, ‘Well, how much do you think you’re worth?’ And I am happy that I had enough savvy, smartness, to say, 'Well, that’s easy for you to say. You’re not paying my tuition.’ And so I transferred. It was one of the best decisions I ever made since it set me on the path to where I am today.”

Graduate student Martin Cordova-Paredes, who will earn his Master of Public Administration in May, attended the dinner. He is the first in his family to have earned a bachelor’s degree and, next month, a master’s. He recalled how he overcame his biggest challenge: navigating college in general.

“I found additional support systems that allowed me to be successful in navigating both undergrad and grad schools. I overcame these challenges by getting involved on campus,” Cordova-Paredes said. “During my undergrad (years), I was part of the Undergraduate Student Government on the Downtown Phoenix campus, and in grad school, I am part of the Graduate and Professional Student Association. By getting involved, it made me more aware of the resources that are available to students at ASU.”

Cordova-Paredes advised new first-generation students to create a network of people who will support them and build them up, as he did.

“Navigating academic institutions can be very challenging, and without prior knowledge of these institutions, it can become very overwhelming,” he said. “But these institutions create the perfect opportunity for students to meet like-minded individuals who are in similar situations as you, or have instilled wisdom that they can pass along to you.”

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Online courses help Myanmar students continue education

ASU pilot program seeks funding to grow enrollment 2 years after coup halted classes

April 17, 2023

In a continuing effort to make education accessible to as many people as possible, the Center for Asian Research in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has launched a program to support displaced students in Myanmar.

Education Support for Displaced Myanmar Students launched this spring to provide a bridge to higher education for students in Southeast Asian country of Myanmar whose education was disrupted by the military coup that began over two years ago. Shot of Durham Hall building and sign. The Education Support for Displaced Myanmar Students launched this spring. Photo by ASU Download Full Image

“Most institutions of higher learning have been shut down in Myanmar because all of the teachers are on strike,” said Juliane Schober, director of the Center for Asian Research“There is tremendous demand for students to have access to higher education. That’s important in a developing country where you are trying to create a vision.”

The interruption began in February 2021 after the military coup took over the country following the 2020 general election. Many teachers and students went on strike to protest the coup, leaving the education system in shambles.

Looking for ways to further their education, students in Myanmar turned to the center’s new program, which leveraged existing online learning opportunities at ASU.

The program has enrolled 60 university students to take online Universal Learner Courses. Students can take courses to continue their education and later use the credit they earned in the class to earn admission to ASU.

Schober said that because students in Myanmar are dedicated to their education and sharing the program through word of mouth, it brings a lot of attention and demand to the learner courses.

'Many of them are just grateful'

Students in the program have also shown great success. Those enrolled have averaged a grade of 84% in the various courses that they have taken in the program’s first semester.

The program provides online first-year college courses to anyone looking to jump-start their college journey.

The cost is $25 per course, and anyone can register. Once the student receives a passing grade, they can choose to gain course credits at ASU by paying a $400 fee.

The university’s established success in online learning and global engagement has aided in the smooth launch of the program.

“At ASU, we already stepped into the space of online learning, so we had a product that we could deliver right away. That wasn’t there for them, so to learn online is that kind of knowledge transformation in and of itself,” Schober said. “We see it as a part of ASU’s global engagement.”

“Many of them are just grateful to have access to these courses,” said Chan Lwin, the center's senior program coordinator. “When the military coup happened, many students decided not to participate in the military education system. Students stuck in the country have no access to education.”

For many of those enrolled, their courses were on topics they weren’t familiar with.

“This is the first time they are encountering courses like these,” Lwin said. “They’ve had a military dictatorship for decades. Topics like social justice or public engagement are eye-opening for students.”

Participants have shown gratitude for the opportunity to further their education, explore classes that spark their interests and learn different ways of communicating about unfamiliar topics.

Positive feedback on program

The center asked students in the program to provide feedback on how this course is changing their educational experience. Here are some of their responses:

  • “I have taken SST 220: Introduction to Social Transformation and ENG 101: First Year Composition. SST 220 offered me plenty of eye-opening insights, and ENG 101 has equipped me with the technical skills required for effective writing. I would really love to explore many ASU courses that spark my interest.”

  • “I have a great chance to attend valuable courses by staying in my home country. I gain tons of knowledge by learning sociology, for instance, I can put myself in another’s shoes and view the world from different points of view.”

Looking to the future, leadership at the center wants to adapt to meet the growing demand, including training teachers and expanding access to even more rural areas that might have trouble accessing online courses.

But the biggest challenge getting in the way of growth is the affordability. The center has applied for a grant to help with several proposed initiatives, including the Myanmar education program. 

“These students were saying they could get 50 students, and those students could get 50 more. The demand is there,” Schober said. “But for those courses to count, they need tuition support.”

The Education Support for Displaced Myanmar Students fund helps support those students. Funding goes toward earned admission costs, global launch courses, course enrollment and ASU transcript credit.

“That can be millions of people needing education. For that to happen, we need support. We need people wanting to get involved and show their support," she said.

Stephen Perez

Marketing and Communications Coordinator, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences