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Perseverance pays off for first-generation student

Growing up in a disadvantaged neighborhood in Caldwell, Samantha Guerrero saw that not everybody graduated from high school. And college? That was for the more privileged students with financial backing.

“It was not something that I was thinking of doing…I thought it was out of my options,” she said.

Even though the circumstances were stacked against her—first-generation college student, Latina, being a mother, having no financial support—Guerrero proved that not only was attending The College of Idaho in her options, but also that she could use her experiences to become a leader on campus.

This April, Guerrero and C of I alum Dulce Sanchez ’15 will travel to San Francisco for the annual Clinton Global Initiative University. CGI U brings together students, university representatives, topic experts and celebrities to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges.

At the conference, Guerrero and Sanchez will present and try to get funding for their project, FuN: Futuro Nuevo (New Future). FuN aims to give students from a small town in the Mexican state of Jalisco the opportunity to be agents of change through an after-school program. The students will be given classes in the areas of bilingual education, political science, art, and pregnancy awareness to create a better community in the Mexican state, which has below-average well-being and education rankings.

Presenting at a national conference is a big step for Guerrero, who used to cry because of stress during her early college years as she struggled to balance her academic work load with working part-time, being a wife, and being a mother to her six-year-old son.

“He has homework, too,” Guerrero said. “So I have my homework, and then his homework to work on.”

Being a pioneer comes with the distinction of being first in your field. It also comes with the struggle of exploring unknown territory. Though Guerrero was setting an example to her younger brother, son and family that college was an attainable goal, she couldn’t find common ground with her parents—neither of whom graduated from high school—to understand what she was going through.

Not living on campus, Guerrero found it hard at times to integrate into the C of I community. She would come to school, go to class, and then go home. There were no dorm-room bonding experiences, no conversations in the cafeteria, no late-night study groups.

“I really like this campus, and I really like our learning environment,” Guerrero said. “But integration is a big part of it, as far as working together with other students on campus and learning the material…when that’s not being done, the experience isn’t fully there. So, for my first two years, I really struggled with that.”

But going into her junior year, she decided to join the Association of Latino American Students (ALAS) on the C of I campus. What she found was a support system of students with backgrounds much like hers.

“It just made my experience at the C of I so much better, having that support and people I could go to for help,” Guerrero said.

Many students in the club are first-generation or non-traditional students, like Guerrero. ALAS provides that campus family support base for the students to talk about problems and ask each other for help.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that when you have those types of responsibilities that Samantha has—aside from going to a tough institution like The College of Idaho—it’s going to take a special person to be able to jump through all the hoops and hurdles,” C of I Director of Multicultural Affairs Arnold Hernandez said.

When Hernandez first met Guerrero, she seemed very quiet and unsure of where to fit in. He’s watched her become more relaxed and find her voice as a leader, serving as vice president of ALAS this year. Guerrero said she enjoys sharing her culture with the rest of the YoteFam through hosting and informing the student body on holidays such Dia de los Muertos and Cinco de Mayo.

“She’s going to do some big things,” Hernandez said. “She’s got a bright future ahead of her, and what a role model, especially for her son.”

Knowing the adversity and barriers she has overcome in life has made Guerrero stronger and motivates her to achieve more and more. And it’s that same sense of empowerment that she wants to inspire others with.

“There are many students like myself who would like to go to college, who may be first-generation or are faced with certain barriers which make it difficult to do so because they lack the support and belief in themselves,” she said.  “I want to show that if I can do it with these responsibilities and struggles of mine, so can they with persistence.”

Next year, Guerrero will graduate with degrees in psychology/ sociology and international political economy. Her goal is to go into an international law program for her master’s degree. Not bad for the girl who didn’t think college was in her options.

“It’s kind of like the motto of ‘The College of I can do anything,’ ” she said. “That’s basically how I feel at this moment. I can go into any field and succeed because I’ve gained research, critical thinking and communication skills, and I have leadership experience. I’m going to take away a lot from The College of Idaho. It has challenged me in many ways and has allowed me to challenge myself.”

The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom.  For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.