Friday, December 28, 2012

First Generation Student Uses Coalition Internship to Help Future Generations

By Erika Lira, Coalition fall intern

As a first-generation student all I knew was that I needed to go to college, get a degree, and to always strive for higher education. This was all my family expected for me to do, so that is all I did. Before this internship, the thought of graduating left me confused. I had no idea what direction to take. My family has always set high expectations for me and supported me, but now it was up to me to make a choice about what is best for me. This means I had to find my own way with programs and mentors that would help me and guide me in the right direction. I had been fortunate to be part of two great competitive programs at my college – University of California Riverside; Educational Abroad Program (EAP) and UCDC, which allowed me to delineate more and more of my interests. While applying to different internships over the summer, I knew I wanted to work in a nonprofit organization that focused in education and youth advocacy, yet I was not too sure what role or position I wanted to work in or what organization to apply to. I knew that I wanted to work with youth, and I wanted to promote higher education among minorities, yet, I still had to work on building the bridge to get there.

I come from a small city outside San Diego, California that borders with Tijuana, Mexico and I know that the programs at my high school district did not always focus on the needs of the students but the basic requirements the district set. It shocked me to see the amount of students that make it to graduation and when they do, are working in a minimum wage job, married, and/or supporting a family in a year or two. Many students attempted to go to community college because it was more flexible and affordable, but never transferred to a four year college or de-prioritized higher education. I became more aware of these disparities and lack of support in schools through my internship at the Coalition for Community Schools. My school district needs the sense of collaboration and engagement with the community to help students be aware of other opportunities. The district needs more teachers that care and are willing to find help expose students to the choices they have after high school, and help support those choices.

Working at Coalition was a great experience and it gave me a sense of direction to where I would like to take my career. It was the perfect internship for me because it focused exactly on the issues that my community and our schools face. After working here for about three and a half months I have discovered that I would like to really focus on high school students and help them not only understand the great importance of higher education but also to take advantage of every opportunity they can, and to help them get there. I would like to focus on providing more support to high school students, to expose them to college and to the help available to them to help them pursue higher education. There is more than just a great education for a student to succeed; there are other factors that impact a student that are often overlooked. I would like to work on these unforseen issues that high school students face and work with young people one on one. Every student should have the right and opportunity to attend college and graduate, but there must be more exposure to these opportunities so that students are aware of it.

Erika is a Sociology/Spanish Literature student at UC Riverside

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