Don’t Give Up

More than a decade ago, as part of ACT’s 50th anniversary celebration, ACT established the ACT Scholars Program, as part of a pair of endowments to nurture the academic talent of graduate and community college students at the University of Iowa and Kirkwood Community College. These two institutions share ACT’s passion for helping all students achieve their ambitions in college and their careers. ACT emphasized scholarships for students from populations for which the cost of higher education could have presented a significant barrier to college access and accomplishments. 

We will feature ACT Scholar blogs regularly, to hear their stories and learn about their college-going journeys. Learn more about the ACT Scholar program.

What was your motivation for going to college and earning a degree?

My greatest motivation for going to college has always been my parents. My parents risked it all to give me better opportunities than they ever had. They have worked hard to see me be successful. My parents never finished high school or went to college–they came to this country in search of a better life and to make sure my siblings and I had the opportunity to graduate high school and college. When I graduated high school, I told them my diploma and medals were theirs–I made it because of them, they made it happen for me. I know that earning a college degree will make them extremely proud of me. Just like it is my dream and what I want for myself, it’s also their dream to see it one day, and that is the day that they will realize that their hard work finally paid off and that it was all worth it.

What are you currently studying? What degree will you earn?

I am currently a liberal arts student at Kirkwood Community College. I plan to transfer to a university to get my bachelor’s degree, then go on to earn a master’s degree, both in psychology. Psychology is a subject I love to learn more about. I am not sure yet what type of psychology I want to focus on yet, but I am taking the opportunity at Kirkwood to find out.

Who inspired or supported you in your college-going journey?

There have been many people in my life who have inspired and supported me in my college-going journey. My parents have been my number-one supporters. They have supported me with everything related to this journey and it started when I was little; they made sure I was at school every day and told me that I was going to be successful one day. They also raised me to dream big because I can achieve anything I set my mind to. My boyfriend has also been one of the most supportive people, after my parents. He saw me graduate from high school and is supporting me now by making sure I am doing my homework and assuring me that my hard work will pay off.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a first-generation college student?

I think the biggest challenge I have faced being a first-generation college student is that I have had to do everything pretty much by myself. I have had support from my family, but it is hard when they have never filled out the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). I had to learn the process of registering for college, what classes are best to take, and I have had to search by myself what university will fit me best when I transfer.

What advice would you give to a first-generation college student today?

Some advice I would give to a first-generation college student is to not give up. If you don’t have all the support you would like, look for it, ask questions, and don’t be scared.

What goals have you set for yourself?

Over the past year, I have realized that I am really the only person in control of my life. A goal I have set for myself is to always make sure to turn in my assignments on time; to not fall behind in my classes. Also, I’ve set a goal to organize my days and follow through with work and school. Outside of work and school, I set the goal of going to the gym five days a week to be stronger physically and mentally, and so far, I have followed through.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Sometimes it seems like I do not get a break with so many things going on in my busy college student schedule, but I remind myself that I can do anything I set my mind to and that everything will be worth it.

Erika Rodriguez is a first-year liberal arts student at Kirkwood Community College. She is planning to transfer to a four-year college and major in psychology. She grew up in Santa Ana, California, the oldest of three children, and is a first-generation college student.