Despite shared experiences, every first-gen student has their own story

Jesus Huerta

By Josh Beauduy

Many PNW students are the first members in their families to go to college. For Jesus Huerta, a junior in Broadcasting, being the first means setting an example for his family for years to come.

The child of Mexican immigrants, the Hammond Morton High School graduate has big plans that are motivated by being a role model for his family.

“Not only was I the second in my family to graduate [high school], but being the first to go to college and hopefully graduate college means a lot to me,” said Huerta, who has four younger siblings.

“Setting an example for them to go to college is a big goal that I have.”

Going to college can be a hard decision for many. Huerta also had to wrestle with the difficulties of not knowing about the college process.

“Without the help of my high school teacher, Mr. [Alex] Duarte who was a college readiness and preparedness teacher, I don’t think I would’ve been able to apply in the first place,” Huerta said.

“Explaining how to apply, how college will be and [answering] any other questions I had regarding college really helped me a lot.”

When he’s not attending classes, Huerta works.

“My family doesn’t have a lot of money in the first place and it’s a miracle that I am still attending college,” he said. “I do have a job, but it doesn’t pay for everything that I need and balancing school, work, and family is tough. Staying focused and understanding that I’m doing it for not only myself but my family makes it all worth it in the end.”

He hopes getting a degree and a job will pay off – for him and his family.

“When I graduate, my goal is to have a good job so I can financially help them,” he said.

Haley Housman

By Russel Brodhacker

Senior Haley Housman is the first in her family to go to college. But she feels her journey with school has just begun.

Haley Housman


Housman is an elementary education major. She plans to spend the rest of her life in school.

“I want to make a difference,” she said. “Helping children reach their full potential is my passion.”

Being the first to attend college has been challenging. Housman strives to manage the stress of a full class schedule and a full-time job. To do that, she is conscientious about working out and r

eading books on philosophy.

Though she is conscious of the hazards of burning a candle from both ends, she never rests long.

“The goal is to leave the planet a better place than when I came into it,” Housman said.

That’s a point of view she’s had for a long time.

“I’ve always told her to … stand on her own two feet, and to never stop pursuing her passions,” said Housman’s mother, Jamie. “If you want something, make it happen.”

Housman has. Though she has struggled with the change of pace COVID-19 has imposed on the campus, she has persisted. As a result, she has been named to the Dean’s list several times and received multiple scholarships.

When doubts emerge and the feeling of being overwhelmed looms, Housman remembers her mother’s advice: “Take it one task at a time, one day at a time, and then you’ll shine.”

Aliyah Bertrand

By Kameran Fleets

For Aliyah Bertrand, being the first in her immediate family to go to college is an achievement that she is proud of, even if it was not her original plan.

“I wanted to go to the Marine Corps at first,” said Bertrand, a sophomore Computer Graphics Technology major. “In 2014, I had promised my late grandfather I would join the Marines after I graduated high school. He was in the hospital on life support and the one thing I wanted to do was uphold that promise.”

Bertrand’s thoughts toward college changed when her grandfather gave her some advice from his hospital bed.

“He told me I didn’t have to join just because he did in the past. All he wanted was for me to be happy and live out my own dreams,” she said. “That said, I am sure he would be proud of me for listening to him.”

Bertrand, who hails from Grovertown, Indiana, a town of 1,519 about 45 minutes southeast of Westville, took a gap year before attending college to decide what she wanted to do. It was a big decision for a kid who grew up in a working-class family. Her father is a factory worker, and her mother works as a security guard.

“When I looked at PNW I found many things I liked,” she said. “First, I looked at how big the campus was as I have always liked the idea of attending a smaller school. Next, I researched how professors interacted with students, back in high school I liked teachers who gave students frequent feedback.”

Then she picked a major she would enjoy. Naturally artistic, Bertrand liked computer graphics as it allowed her to design and create art using 3D graphics.

“Being able to design things in Adobe Illustrator is an awesome experience,” she said. “I enjoy designing because I have always wanted an easier way to express myself with my art.”

Bertrand still lives with her family in Grovertown, but now sees what the world offers beyond her hometown.

“I don’t believe I would be satisfied [in] a small town,” she said. “College has opened new opportunities for me that I would have never had access to before.”

Fiorella Rubio

By Jeremiah Garcia
Fiorella Rubio

Sophomore Fiorella Rubio says she feels like she’s writing an important new chapter in her family’s history.

Rubio is the daughter of Venezuelan immigrants, the youngest of three and a first-generation college student. She is majoring in Political Science and plans to study law and eventually become a diplomat.

“My role in life has always been to help others, and help find the solution to a bigger problem,” she said on why she aspires to become a diplomat.

Rubio’s had a lot of practice helping others. Growing up, Rubio and her siblings often had to translate for their parents, who do not speak English.

“If my parents did not have their kids [to help them communicate], I truly don’t believe they would be where they are today,” she said.

Rubio chose PNW because of its distance from the family’s home in Noblesville, Indiana, near Indianapolis, and because it is easy to connect with professors.

“At PNW I receive a great one-on-one experience with my professors,” she said.

She said that she has fallen in love with the friends she’s made in her two years here, as well as with the Region’s atmosphere.

“I enjoy being so close to Chicago,” she said. “It’s always a thrill to go downtown with my friends and grab a bite to eat.”

Jesus Vega

By Megan Granados
Jesus Vega

As a child, Jesus Vega always knew he was going to attend college.

What he didn’t know was where.

His search began at Morton East High School in Cicero, Illinois. While attending a college recruiting event at school, he met someone from PNW.

“PNW was one of the schools that stood out to me,” said Vega, a freshman engineering student. “I did some research and, to be honest, I found great reviews.”

Prior to finding his home at PNW and selecting his major Vega has always had a passion for engineering.

“I took engineering classes in high school that really caught my attention,” he said. “I always liked solving problems and I like hands-on types of work. Plus, I enjoy math.”

In high school Vega took numerous engineering classes. One of them was about civil engineering.

“I took a civil engineering class at a local community college,” Vega said. “I took it in high school, and I got college credit for it.”

Vega said he has long been passionate about pushing himself.

“[In high school] I played football for four years, wrestled for two and for my senior year I played rugby,” Vega said. “My sophomore year I also was part of the music club where I played the violin and in my engineering class we did competitions. [Also] I was also a mentor my senior year for the sophomores.”

Now, as a resident of the University Village, Vega wishes everything wasn’t virtual.

“I wish everything was in person,” Vega said. “I would like my classes to be in person since I’m a visual learner.”

Although he has always planned to attend college, the freshman acknowledges that the journey has been challenging – particularly since no one else in his family has done it.

“Being a first generation college student is like walking into something blindly,” said Vega. “I can’t ask family if they have any tips when applying to financial aid or colleges so senior year until freshman year of college is all a learning process.”

He wants to be able to offer that help to his younger sister.

“I want to learn as much as I can to be able to teach her,” he said. “So she doesn’t have to go through the same stresses that I did.”

Felcia Sawyer

By Hannah Sawyer
Mark and Felicia Garcia

College students can feel a lot of pressure, but junior Felicia Garcia considers it a preparation for her future career.

She wants to become a family counselor.

It’s not quite the career her otherwise supportive parents had encouraged her to pursue. They wanted the first of their children to attend college to become a nurse.

“A lot of pressure was put on me by my parents,” she said.

But Garcia found that she loved human development and family studies.

“I chose family studies because it deals with people who have dealt with abuse and working with families,” she said. “I want to use this degree to give back.”

Garcia said she wants to open her own counseling practice to help individuals and their families. She said she wants anyone who is experiencing mental health challenges to get help.

She understands how pressures can affect performance. Garcia, who plans to graduate next fall, has juggled a variety of activities and responsibilities for years.

She and her husband of six years raise their three children, 8-year-old Matthew, 5-year-old Lana, and 3-year-old Cora. Garcia mostly helps her two oldest children with their schoolwork when she is home. When she is not doing that or her own schoolwork, she also works as a server at a nearby restaurant.

“Working, helping my children with school work and doing my school work is exhausting,” she said. “Sometimes I want to give up, but I don’t.”

Garcia said she will not let obstacles stop her from reaching her career goals.

 “Don’t let other people factor what you do in life,” she said. “School may not be for everyone, [but] even if you have kids, you can still go to school and get through it.”


Carter Schnick

By Wesley Smith
Carter Schnick

When Carter Schnick was just 3 years old, his father put him on a dirt bike and told him to ride. Fifteen years and several trophies later, the first generation college freshman is hoping to apply the lessons he’s learned on the racetrack to his studies in a university classroom.

“My approach to motocross is somewhat similar to my approach to college,” said Schnick, who took first place in the 85cc class 10-15 age division at the 2017 American Motorcyclist Association championships at Ironman Raceway in Crawfordsville, Indiana. “There are so many things to still learn.”

Schnick, a Valparaiso reside

nt who has long dreamed of working at Yamaha Motor Company, credits his parents for instilling in him the importance of following your passion and having what he calls a “determination to excel.” Their support, along with the support of his two sisters, is something he says that has helped him in his pursuit of a Mechanical Engineering Technology degree.

“My parents never really had the opportunity to go to college,” he said. “They were like, if you’re really determined to go into this kind of thing and you see a chance to go somewhere with it, do it.”

And doing it he is, albeit humbly.

“I’ve had a few good crashes,” said Schnick, speaking about the difficulties that he and other first generation students often face when transitioning from high school to college.

“There were so many steps to go through,” he said, referring to the application process. “We [he and his mother] were contacting the counselors almost daily and we probably became pretty annoying to them but we had no other option.”

No stranger to setbacks, Schnick, who has been unable to participate in motocross events due to the coronavirus pandemic, is taking this new experience in stride.

“In the end it will all be worth it,” he said. “And I can look back on everything I have done and smile.”