Wednesday, June 6, 2012

First Generation Story- Eric Felix

When I discovered “Project 1st Gen in Student Affairs,” I knew I had to share my experience. In hindsight, I never realized what it meant to be a first-generation college student. I failed to realize that as a low-income, first-generation American, first in the family to go to college I would face a variety of challenges that many other students wouldn’t have to. I just thought everyone was having a hard time navigate the system and get accustomed to a new environment. I didn’t appreciate my experience as a first-gen student until I reflected on it as a graduate student at San Diego State University in their Student Affairs program.
Two anecdotes about my experience and how they impacted my decision to work in higher education.
  1. Growing up I always thought I was going to USC, not because I was a Trojan fan or loved the cardinal and gold colors, but because I thought it was the University for Southern California. As a kid, I grew up thinking I would go to USC because it was the school where all the students from southern California would go. It wasn’t until 10th grade in high school I realized there were hundreds of schools in California to attend.
  2. After all was said and done, I chose to attend Cal State Fullerton, the local CSU for my area. I remember driving to the school for orientation with my family. As we left our home in Anaheim which was 15 minutes away from the school. Half way into the commute my dad pulled into a parking lot and said, “were should we park?”…I asked, “why are you parking here, this is Fullerton College?” Being the first to go to college was also a strong reminder that my family was unaware of the higher education system in the United States. My family assumed that Fullerton College (a community college) and Cal State Fullerton (a CSU campus) were the same.
There are many stories like this that make wonder how I ever made it through HS and into college. My answer: Upward Bound Math & Science. That is the reason why I felt prepared to go to college. Between the academic enrichment and Summer Bridge, I was already a Titan! As an undergraduate I hated meeting with my SSS counselor, having to go to community dinners, and needing to turn in progress reports in the middle of the semester.  But now thank Upward Bound and SSS every day for the opportunities I was afforded.
I entered my graduate program in 2008, with a determination to learn everything about outreach, access, and equity to better serve low-income, first-generation students like myself. I interned in EOP (Educational Opportunities Program), I had a graduate assistantship with an institutional college preparation program. All of my work in graduate school was dedicated to paying it forward. To help others in the community, as I had been helped.
Because of these experiences and more, I am a firm believer that higher education is one of the greatest transformative institutions we have in our Society. I am a first-generation college graduate and it took a community of supporters to achieve it! As an Admissions Counselor, I dedicate my work to helping first-generation students explore opportunities in higher education, and be empowered to attend college and thrive!


  1. Eric,

    I was humbled to read about your own college prep experience. I couldn't read fast enough because it nearly mirrored my own experience. I graduated high school in 2008 and it wasn't until my sophomore year in high school when I learned that college was more than just one building. My entire life I though college was one giant building where everyone from all studies went to- like a really big high school. I also thought that all you had to do was apply, pay and you were in. I remember sitting in my academic advisers office first-semester of my senior when she asked me, "Where do you want to go to college?" I replied, "Well, I was thinking either IU or Purdue." She hit me with probably the kindest shocked face her face could muster. She glanced at me, glanced at my grade sheets that were reflecting a 2.2GPA and broke the news that I would not be able to get into either of those schools. Can you believe that? I didn't know that you needed good grades to get into IU or Purdue. I thought good grades ONLY helped with scholarships.

    My parents also had no idea how to navigate the complex system of college. Near mid-year of my senior year, my parents didnt want me to go to college and just enter a trade school. Luckily, I was smart enough to realize that A. I didnt want to break my back at work and B. There were no unions hiring in 2008. Anyways, I chose to go to IUPUI (AKA followed my former girlfriend to college) and applied for admission, FAFSA, private loans, scholarships, housing, registered for classes without any help. Believe me, FAFSA kept my 18 year old self up for several nights staring at the screen that may have been in a different language. My parents were only consulted when I needed figures entered into any of the paperwork.

    1st generation students have such a hill to climb when they go away to college. We dont have the luxury of reaching out to our closest network, our family, for guidance because college is just as confusing to them as it is to us.

    Anyways, I made it through college with Honor's every semester. A little upgrade from my high school 2.2GPA. I'm one semester from graduation and wouldn't do it over again any other way. It's been life changing and moving away has brought my family so much closer together. 1st generation college students should be celebrated. Perhaps, I am feeling a bit of self-entitlement, but no one knows what we experience when we get thrown into the college system. It's like another planet we only heard about on TV.

    Seriously, I loved your post. Keep up your hard work and always remember that you have a huge 1st gen network behind you!

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