Tag Archives: gen1grad

Friday’s Feature: Cathy Cordova


Cathy Cordova, Business Administrator I (Texas A&M University), Junior majoring in History with a minor in Sociology (Sam Houston State University)

After exiting high school in the 10th grade and later earning her GED, Cathy focused on raising her children and working. Below, she tells Gen1Grad why she decided to go back and how she is making it work.

What made you go back to school now? Working at a place of Higher Education (here at TAMU) resurfaced the need to further my education. Having a supervisor that related to my situation, and encouraging me to go back to school.

What have been some challenges in going back to school? Time management is the biggest challenge. I returned with three small children, ranging from toddler to early elementary. Trying to balance full time employment, parenting responsibilities and school work is difficult. My grades are not what they could or should be but parenting responsibilities and work take priority.

What have been some of the highlights of going back? Learning. I enjoy Sociology the most, and love learning new ways of thinking about society or cultures. I like sharing some of what I am studying with my family.

Why was it so important for you to go back to school? It was so important because higher education was never really important or achievable to anyone in my family. 1 of 6 kids, and NONE of us graduated from high school, neither did our parents. You go to school until you can legally quit, then you get a job. That was the expectation and very common among Hispanic, low income families.

What advice would you give to someone else he was going back to school a little later in life? I would advise them to really invest in a time management tool, whether it be electronic or hard copy like a planner. Plan ahead as much as you can and prepare for life’s interruption because they happen frequently. Make the decision to not stop, no matter what comes your way. Take advantage of the student resources offered at school, like advising, counseling, and meeting with professors if you find yourself struggling in a class.

Is there anything you would like to add? I’m currently a Junior, just taking 6 hours a semester but, the older the kids have gotten, the harder it seems to devote time to school work. It really is difficult but they know how important it is to me and just including them by opening discussion at home when it’s affecting my grades seems to help. They become more aware of my “study time” and seem to be more helpful around the house during finals.

Wow! Great job Cathy. We are rooting for you and wish you nothing but success. You are an inspiration to people who are contemplating going back to school.


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Our Friday Feature

Keinda West,
Litigation Paralegal

BA Sociology-Criminology (2006, Ohio University) and an ABA approved Paralegal Certificate (2014, Long Island University – Brooklyn)

1. Why did you decide to attend college?

College was always something that was expected of me, but I went because I knew it was the next step in life. At the time I wanted to become a forensic scientist. That just was not going to happen without a college degree.

2. What were some of the challenges you faced as a first-generation college student, and how did
you overcome them?

I had a lot of fear because I have older siblings and I watched two of them attend college, but not finish. I always had it in the back of my mind that I wouldn’t finish as well. As expected, after my first year, I was on academic probation with a 1.7 GPA. The classes weren’t actually hard, I was just overwhelmed, depressed, and couldn’t find my footing. I didn’t turn things around until I realized that I wasn’t in this by myself and swallowed my pride to ask for help. In my sophomore year I talked with academic advisors, my profs, even my RA. All were glad to assist me with resources on campus. I also had to take my mind off who I didn’t want to become, a college failure, and focus on who I was striving to be, a college graduate.

3. What have been some of the payoffs for attending college?

Outside of earning credentials for the job market and a lifetime network, my whole worldview changed from attending college. I learned there was so much more in the world than the environment in which I grew up. Most important, I learned who I was. It’s where I developed my inner strength! One doesn’t necessarily have to attend college for those things, but that’s where I made my discoveries.

4. If you could go back in time and change anything about your college career, what would it be
and why?

I would have used my scholarship to attend a local community college for free! I chose not to attend because the school didn’t offer my major. However, I realized later that I could have used those two years to take my general education requirements and transferred to a 4-year school with my major to complete my degree…with less debt!

5. If you could give any advice to current and/or future first-generation college students, what
would it be?

Don’t borrow more money than you need. I didn’t discover that I could decline a portion of my loans until my senior year. The damage was already done. Each quarter I would receive and overage check of about $1500. Sure I used maybe $500-$700 of that for books, but the rest of that was not the free money I naively thought it to be. Of course, I knew I would have to pay it back, but who’s thinking that far in advance? So don’t spend all of your salary before you get the job you’ve been studying so hard for! Student loan payments are very real and all the hell that everyone says they are.

Additional info:
Since graduating in 2006, my mom has completed an associate degree in business administration and two of my older sisters have gone back to school and completed bachelor degrees in healthcare administration and electrical engineering. It’s truly been a blessing to watch them succeed as well.


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Friday Feature

Madeline L. (Boenker) Short – ACO Communications and Vendor Relationships, Manager

BA in Communication, Texas A&M University, ’09 (specialty: Speech Communication);
MA in Communication, Texas A&M University, ’11 (specialty: Health Communication/Media Campaigns)

1. Why did you decide to attend college?

It was the “logical next step” because I greatly enjoyed school, was not ready to join the workforce, and was ready for self-exploration! My parents always emphasized that “a college degree would get your foot in the door – you’d have to work less to earn more.” So, off I went…even though A&M rejected me the first time around. I eventually got in after a few semesters at a junior college.

2. What were some of the challenges you faced as a first-generation college student, and how did you overcome them?

One of my largest challenges was the feeling that my parents didn’t understand the various stressors and pressures that I felt on any given day (most of which were internal). Looking back, I didn’t give them enough credit – the workforce is WAY harder than college. My challenges were related to time-management, setting realistic expectations for performance, and managing multiple competing priorities. I always found mentors (older college students) who could help pat me on the back and calm my nerves. I liked the wisdom provided by my experienced pals. But mostly, I just did the best I could to independently overcome any challenges. For instance, I would read extra chapters if my dyslexia was slowing me down in preparation for the following week.
I was very fortunate that my folks paid for my undergraduate degree and gave me time to focus solely on my college career. All in all, my challenges were more emotional and intellectual than financial.

3. What have been some of the payoffs for attending college?

There have been multiple “payoffs”. First, I met my husband and the most amazing group of lifelong friends. Second, I read more books, wrote more papers, and survived more late nights than I thought was humanly possible. This gave me a strong sense of accomplishment and confidence which has in turn greatly helped me to establish a professional persona in the workforce. Third, I made many connections through professional organizations (NCA) and through taking on additional responsibilities while in college (e.g. serving as a research assistant, working part-time) that have helped me find employment. Fourth, I have letters behind my name and I am an Aggie (which has also helped me land positions). Fifth, I learned more about my strengths and weaknesses (college gave me a dose of reality – I’m not perfect – there is always someone smarter or better) without having to publicly fail like I would have in the workforce. Sixth, I learned to work with other people even though many times I didn’t want to put faith in their ability.

4. If you could go back in time and change anything about your college career, what would it be and why?
Honestly, my college experience was ideal. If I HAD to change something, I would have taken a few more business classes or even minored in business. This is not because it’s an interest of mine, but my current and previous employers have really favored or given more opportunities to folks with business experience and/or degrees.

5. If you could give any advice to current and/or future first-generation college students, what would it be?
Since I’m the experienced college student now, I guess I have to pass along my wisdom. So here it goes:

1. Go to college even if you think it’s not right for you. At least give it a shot because I bet there will be one class or one teacher who can really make it click for you.

2. Don’t be afraid to start at a junior college. It doesn’t mean you are any less worthy of a fancy degree. Junior colleges actually allow you to accrue less debt and slowly acclimate to all the pressures the college world has to offer.

3. Have fun and meet people. College is just as much about learning to interact with your peers as it is about burying your nose in books. It’s okay to occasionally compromise a study night to bond with your colleagues. And, enjoy the slow pace of the college world – you really get to spend more time doing what you want than in any other time in your life.

4. Get a part-time job or internship. THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. You have to develop skills while in college and illustrate those in a tangible way. Writing papers (unless you stay in the academy) won’t get you job interviews, you have to show that you can work in your field of interest and made the extra effort to do so. Also, this is how you meet incredibly influential mentors who you will later ask for multiple recommendations.

5. Your parents, your dog, your roommate, the random person on the street corner don’t have to “get it”, and even if they do, you won’t think they can. Stop trying to make people in your life understand how stressed or insane you feel while in college. They are just happy that you are experiencing something spectacular! And people in the workforce don’t feel bad for you – rather, they are jealous (I wish I had a Spring Break)!

6. Get to know your professors. Try to spend time getting to know professors in your particular field of interest. They are thrilled to have an excited student! Offer to help on their research projects or just ask them questions about interesting things you’ve read for their class. The professional relationships you build with your professors will come in handy when trying to enter the workforce. They will be the individuals who can attest to your work ethic and dedication, and will be the folks you rely on as references.

Madeline certainly gave us a lot to think about! What did you take away from the article? Comment below.

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Motivational Mondays: Inspire Others

We should all strive to be an inspiration to others! Work hard. Live well. Connect with those around you. Seek out opportunities. Be present in the moment. You never know when, where, why, or how you will motivate someone else to keep fighting, change their ways, or create something of value.



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