Staff Perspective: Helping first-generation college students find their path

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We asked Bianca Rodriguez, transfer center director at Daley College, a few questions about her own experience as a first-generation college student – and how it impacts her approach to supporting students at Daley College.

What was the best advice you received as a first-generation college student?

Both of my parents are from Mexico and when they arrived in Chicago in the 1960s, as many immigrants do, they had big dreams of building a family, owning a home, and providing a good, stable life here. My earliest memories are built on their commitment to their children and working hard – my dad worked two jobs for most of his life – to give my siblings and I the opportunities they didn’t have. For them, that meant going to school, finding meaningful careers, and building a life for ourselves.

Sounds like the perfect story – but, in reality, I had my own dreams. I love working – my first job at 19 was as a copy editor at a news bureau, because I wanted to be a journalist. I remember my mom wanted me to go into hospitality, but my heart was just not there. She envisioned me being the best housekeeper at the Hyatt, while I dreamed of replacing Carol Marin on Channel 5. Eventually, she relented, and that allowed me to put my passion into something I wanted to do. As I grew with the company, I eventually learned that I couldn’t stomach real journalism – BUT I did love marketing! And years later, as I climbed my own mountain of success, my parents were proud that I made my own path. So, my advice is to do something that makes you happy, even if it’s not a perfect path, as long as it’s the right one for you.

Does your experience as a first-generation college student inform the way you work with students at Daley?

It certainly does. Many of my students share stories with me that are very similar to my own. Being a former Daley student who later transferred UIC while living with parents and siblings, I can relate to how that impacts their learning behaviors, opportunities, and barriers.

Growing up in a bilingual household can often be difficult, particularly when it comes to filling out college applications and FAFSA, and reviewing scholarship requirements. It’s easy to give up out of confusion and frustration. Having a strong and supportive family unit, whether it’s parents, siblings, grandparents, professors, coworkers, really makes a difference, and I try to make it a point that students understand we’re all in this together with them. They are not alone.

Anything else you would tell current City Colleges first-generation students?

Find your voice. This might be easier said than done, especially at a time when you are starting at a new school or learning how to navigate the first semester of college. Just as anything you learn, from walking to riding a bike, it all comes through practice and experience. When you find your voice, it means that you have learned to appreciate opportunities and you recognize the value of experience enough to advocate for yourself. We all have a story to tell!

If you’re a student who needs help with your next step, be sure to tap into the resources available at every City College. From tutoring, to mental health support, transfer guidance, career searches, and choosing your classes for next semester – we are here to help.