First-generation Hispanic student shares her experiences and advice about going to college

Vilma Maldonado

By Kent Steward
Fort Hays State University

As a young person leaves home for the first day of college, the predominant emotion is excitement, but there is also a dash of apprehension. For the young person who is the first in his or her family to attend college, that sense of apprehension may be stronger.

Vilma Maldonado, a junior at Fort Hays State University with a double major in business management and foreign language, knows the feeling. It was just a couple years ago that she set out from her home in Kansas City, Kan., to pursue a college degree. She agreed to share her experiences in hopes of encouraging current high school juniors and seniors who, like her, are the first in their families to consider college.

"I think it is a big accomplishment for myself and my family," she said. "I also enjoy being a role model to my nieces and nephews because they look up to me and want to do what I am doing."

Maldonado said college was actually always the plan. "My parents always told me I had to go to college to be a successful woman. This was also one of the reasons why my family moved to the United States. I grew up knowing that the best way to be successful was by being educated about my career and other cultures."

She could have attended a college closer to home but instead opted for Fort Hays State nearly 250 miles away in western Kansas. "If you would have asked me my freshman year, I wanted to be in a different environment and not in the city," she explained. "Now I feel that it has helped me become very independent and more responsible for my future. This also allowed me to be involved in a variety of different organizations and activities, which have helped me tremendously in becoming a better student and business professional. I chose Fort Hays State because of the friendly atmosphere, the assistance professors give you at all times and the class sizes. After being here I really did see the effort professors put into helping students achieve academic and personal goals."

Asked what advice she would give to a first-generation Hispanic student about attending college, Maldonado said she would tell them to not let stereotypes define who they are. "They can really accomplish anything they set their mind to," she said. "Also, they should not let the fear of being a first-generation Hispanic student stop them from achieving their college dreams. If you ever need help, don't hesitate to ask for it. You will be surprised with how many people are willing to lend a helping hand!"

Thinking about that sense of apprehension that any new college student must face, Maldonado said it was important to know how to deal with the first few weeks of college away from home. "You really do need to step out of your comfort zone and be open to meeting new people to break down the barriers of moving to a new environment," she said. "Joining organizations will help you pass time and meet amazing people outside of class."

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