Campus President: Dr. Rolando GarciaSouth Campus
I was born in Hialeah, FL to parents that immigrated to the US from Cuba for political asylum in the mid 1960's. My father was born and raised in a very rural part of Cuba (Pinar del Rio) but ultimately moved to Havana for work where he met my uncle who introduced him to his sister (my mom). My mother and her immediate family immigrated directly to Miami from Cuba but my father had to immigrate to Miami via Spain. Even though my parents have lived in the US for over forty years, none of them speak or read English. Growing up, I was the translator/interpreter for my family. Growing up in a Spanish speaking house hold meant that English was my second language so I had to overcome that challenge to be successful in school and help my family move ahead in this country. Helping my family meant working hard in school. My family encouraged me to excel in school because they didn't want me or my brother working low wage jobs.
What motivated you to attend college?
Getting a high wage job was my motivation in going to college. I saw it as my way of helping my family get ahead in this country.
What were the biggest challenges you encountered as a first-generation college student? How did you overcome these challenges?
The biggest challenge I faced was navigating the college application process. Fortunately, I was a very good student and could have had more options presented to me but my school guidance counselors only guided me to apply at local colleges and universities like Miami Dade College and FIU. Ultimately, I applied to the University of Miami because I was interested in medicine and they had/have one of the best medical schools in the country. I mistakenly believed that attending UM for undergrad improved my chances for admission to their medical school not really knowing those two processes are completely unrelated. While I did well at UM academically, I graduated with a degree that was pretty worthless in terms of job prospects if I didn't get into medical school. Since I didn't find a high wage job after graduation, I ultimately had to go back to school for graduate degrees to increase my earning potential. I overcame these challenges by working hard in school and in the workplace to obtain a career I love and that allows me to support my family.
What advice would you give other first-generation college students?
I advise all first-generation college students to take advantage of all the resources and opportunities provided to them. Information on colleges and universities is readily available now through the web. I also encourage students to talk to college students, talk to employers, and to visit colleges and universities to find the right fit for them. It is important to network, get good information, and make sound decisions when you have enough information.
While we often talk about the challenges first generation students face, they also have unique sets of life experiences that can serve them well in college and beyond. How did your background as a first-generation college student help you in college? What skills and experiences did you draw upon?
The key skills I developed growing up were communication skills. Since I often had to do all the talking in English and Spanish for my family, I could talk to people from all walks of life. I could establish relationships and clearly communicate. Additionally, seeing the struggle of my parents and grandparents in trying to provide for our family made me more resilient in trying to be successful in school. I had no safety net if I wasn't successful so I worked hard and smart to get ahead.
How does being a first-generation student influence you (and/or your work) today?
I like to think that I continue using the lessons I learned as a first-gen student to continue moving my family forward. Additionally, now that I can give back I am passionate about helping all first-generation students especially those from special population groups. I believe in the power of education for social mobility so I am dedicated to helping all those students that are interested in helping themselves and their families.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your first-generation student experience?
The experience of being a first-generation student can be daunting and it is imperative that we help those that are going through it move forward and succeed. We are strongest as a society when we all come together and support one another.