First-Gen, First Step
First-generation student Nita De La Cruz is working her way toward being the first person in her family to graduate from college. She began at North Central State College after attending Pioneer Career and Technology Center studying graphic design. It was her interest in design that lead her to the mechanical engineering program at NC State.
“North Central was the right choice for me because it is close to home while also leading me to what I want to do in the future,” De La Cruz says. “I am a first-generation student, so being close to home was ideal for me. Education is important and so is family. I realized if you are connected to your family, you don’t have to go far to get a great education.”
First-generation students often experience a number of challenges, including guilt over leaving their families and possible financial responsibilities at home.
“My family has been very encouraging,” she says. “Unfortunately, when I ask my family about college classes or financial aid, they don’t have any experience. I have been lucky to have an advisor that is willing to help go the extra mile and get me prepared for my classes.”
“My advisor was the one who encouraged me to apply for scholarships to help ease the pressure of how I would pay for college,” De La Cruz explains. “I received the Tuition Freedom Scholarship. If I did not have it I would still be wondering how I would pay for college. Without the scholarships, I would not be where I am right now.”
De La Cruz eventually wants to pay it forward to her family and community following graduation. “In the future, I want to be an architectural engineer. It combines two things I love, which are design and engineering,” she explains. “I want to design homes for the less fortunate people who cannot afford them. I just want to make a difference. You can’t just sit and wait for someone else to do it. You need to get a great education so you can do it on your own.” She plans to transfer to a four-year institution after getting her associate degree in mechanical engineering in 2024.
For those experiencing college as first-generation students, she offers this advice, “Don’t let fear stop you from going to college. You just need to set that fear aside and believe in yourself. You have the chance to do something in your family that hasn’t been done before, so why not take it.”
If you are a first-generation student and need help navigating the different challenges you might face, the TRIO Student Support Services program provides and coordinates a variety of educational support services for students who are first generation, low-income and/or students with disabilities.