Celebrating and supporting UTEP First-gen students in a virtual environment

Nicole Aguilar, The University of Texas at El Paso / The Center / February 17, 2021

Despite the pandemic, the entire world has endured, and we are very proud of what we have been able to accomplish at The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) this year. Now more than ever, our students are determined, and they are finding ways to remain engaged. Our faculty and staff remain committed to supporting students during these unprecedented times.

In honor of the annual National First-Generation Celebration, UTEP’s students, faculty, staff, and alumni took part in virtual panels, shared stories, and recognized ways that UTEP first-generation students are achieving their dreams of attaining their degree. 

Here is what our first-gen students had to say, when asked…
“How has UTEP and/or your college supported your journey so far?”
  • Stacy Huhn: “UTEP has shaped me and supported my desire to become a leader in my community. I have attended a number of conferences and events free to students by the university. Through these events, I have been able to grow my leadership and personal marketing skills. There have been so many different opportunities that UTEP has provided me with and so many skills that I’ve gained. UTEP has helped me to be better than I ever thought I could be.”

  • Sandra I. Morales: “UTEP has supported me in so many ways! UTEP has provided me the opportunities to grow individually, academically, and professionally. Being a student employee at UTEP has been one of the best experiences that I have had and is still opening other opportunities for my future. Every individual who has been part of my academic and professional journey at UTEP has provided me with tools to reach my highest potential.”

  • Michael Sanchez: “El Paso is a great city, and I believe UTEP is a reflection of all the diversity and opportunity that exists in our community. The faculty has been very proactive in guiding me to prepare me in the best way possible. The facility and access to research equipment are like no other. There are always opportunities being offered to Miners, whether it be academically or financially.”“What was your source of motivation to go to college?”

  • Stacy Huhn: “Although my parents didn’t attend a university, they were my main motivation and encouragers to attend UTEP. Throughout my childhood, my parents would always point out the campus when we would drive by. They would always remind me that UTEP was ‘my school.’ In my mind, I already had that UTEP pride by the age of four. When I did attend UTEP, I felt at home and that I belonged. I am thankful to my parents for encouraging and motivating me towards getting my degree.”

  • Sandra I. Morales: “My source of motivation was, of course, my family. I wanted to make them proud, but what motivated me the most were the odds that were against me. Growing up in a Hispanic home, the goal is to graduate high school and then find a full-time job to get by. The odds that were against me for being Hispanic, female, and first-generation in the U.S., but this motivated me in many ways to pursue my college education.”

  • Michael Sanchez: “I never really saw anyone in my family continue their higher education, but I always found this to be deeply important to me. I always looked for opportunities to surround myself with educated people in hopes that I could continually learn from them. I can say that my want to continue into college was an intrinsic motivation, as I really didn't have much pressure or reward influencing me from the outside. My wife and kids were also a continuous motivation for me to succeed!”

In an effort to continue to support and recognize our graduating first-gen seniors, we mailed out first-generation honor cords. This marks three years since we have begun this new tradition, and students are eager and proud to wear their cords. Our talented marketing team designed a fun, graduation-themed bag with a cord enclosed. This sent the message to our students that though we are in a virtual setting, we are proud of them and honoring their achievement with them!

One last effort we would like to highlight is a first-generation freshman seminar we are piloting in Spring 2021. The program will prepare first-generation students for college by helping them develop writing, communication, and critical thinking skills through a variety of methods as well as provide activities focused on student engagement, belonging, agency, academic success, and professional preparation. Furthermore, it will prepare students for internships, employment, undergraduate research, and community-engaged learning experiences. Students will engage in enriching experiences to understand and develop their personal strengths, enabling them to succeed in college and beyond. Approximately 40 students are participating in this pilot program this semester. A full launch is expected to occur in Fall 2021, and the team leading the efforts will double the number of sections for students.

We could not be more proud of the UTEP community. We are resilient, we are united, and we are Miner strong! These stories and examples are just some of the ways we advance student success for our first-gen population. There is so much more we are working on, and we look forward to sharing with you how UTEP is committed to providing our students with access to an excellent education that will impact their lives forever.

For more information on The University of Texas at El Paso’s approach, please visit their website here.