Forty-five percent of all college students in California are the first in their family to enroll in higher education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. I would like to introduce you to one of these students, Imani Alexandria Mauzon, who is studying political science at the University of California, Merced. She has shown great determination on her path to success. Family, teachers, and mentors have influenced the direction of her education and career goals.
Imani and millions of students like her are our nation's future.
You are a first-generation college student. What has this meant to you and your family?
Being the first in my family to attend college was, and is, one of my proudest accomplishments. There was an unspoken expectation that, as the oldest in my family, I would do well and set the bar for my younger sister. I tried my best in high school, but because my mother had to work multiple jobs to provide for us, she couldn't be at home to help me.
Being a first-generation student at UC-Merced has been difficult at times. My family didn't always understand how tough it was to be alone on campus, to take classes in huge lecture halls, and to adjust to the reality that teachers would not give me the same kind of personal attention I received in high school. It was hard but I eventually put together a system for myself and got through the challenges in my path.
The most positive thing that's come out of my experience is that my little sister, Nia, has decided to attend college too.
Tell us more about the challenges of transitioning to college.
College is so different from high school where I had scheduled assignments and in-class readings. My high school classes had thirty students, whereas college professors have to juggle seventy or more, depending on the course. As soon as I stepped on campus, I was acknowledged as an adult, treated like one and expected to act as such. It was a breath of fresh air to be able to connect with everyone on campus, including the professors, on the same level and without feeling "beneath" anyone.
We are all more or less on campus for the same reasons, going through the same struggles. It's been awesome to see that. Overall, the difference in expectations, structure and responsibilities created a positive sense of competition for me. Being in class with peers who want to do well academically has made me work harder. I want to be a top student who sets the curve and makes my family proud.
What has your support system in high school and college been like?
The support system that I've had in college is the same as the one that got me there in the first place. One person who saw something in me, Brenda Chiuminatta, became my mentor. She was substituting in one of my high school math classes, and stopped me after class to ask if I wanted to go to college. I felt obligated to say yes, but, truly, I had no intention of applying or attending. She mentioned that she was the Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) instructor on campus and suggested that I join the program. I told her I would, but didn't at first. For weeks, every time I saw Mrs. Chiuminatta, she would remind me to come to meetings. She wouldn't take no for an answer, so I finally gave in and enrolled. It changed my life.
Mrs. Chiuminatta helped me choose the high school courses I needed to be eligible for a four-year university. She was the driving force in my success and is still involved in my life to this day. I know I can always call, text, or Facebook-message her to ask for advice about academics and financial aid. She even helps me with personal relationship decisions. She believed in me and gave me the tools I have needed to get as far as I have.
Programs offered on campus, such as the Student Success Center, and my academic counselors have been very supportive as well. I could always walk into these offices knowing that my questions would be answered and my problems addressed with either a solution or suggestion. The guidance I've received has made things so much easier.
Most importantly though, my family has been my biggest support. It's one thing to get phone calls and care packages, but receiving constant prayer and positive encouragement has given me the strength to not only believe in myself but to thrive and accomplish great things for the sake of making my family proud. Next May, I will be the first in my family to graduate from a four-year university.
What do you want to do after you graduate?
My next goal is to get a Master's degree in Communications at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs in hopes of becoming a journalist, writer or editor. My plan is to further develop my career through networking and interning. Knowing this, I have chosen my extracurricular activities and courses carefully, so that I will be well-prepared for my future. Most importantly, after I graduate, I want to have an impact on my community and make those who have supported me on this journey proud and give them the comfort of knowing that I will go on to do great things.