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Meet 3 Amazing First-Generation College Students

National First-Generation College Student Day is celebrated each year on November 8 to mark the signing of the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965. The legislation provided more opportunities for students whose parents or legal guardians do not have a bachelor's degree (first-generation students).

Sara, Larry and Arizbe
Pictured left to right, Sara Garcia, Dr. Larry Pakowski and Arizbe Soto-Ramirez.

All month long, Aims is celebrating the journeys of students, faculty and staff and their groundbreaking journeys in higher education. Let the stories of Sara, Larry and Arizbe encourage and inspire you. 

Sara Garcia

Sara GarciaFirst-generation college student Sara Garcia is currently pursuing a nursing degree at Aims. In 2025, she will be the first registered nurse in her family. She proudly says, “I will be the first with a stable career that I can take anywhere I want. I am the first to experience the highs and the lows and navigate it by myself.” Sara acknowledges that this pursuit is not easy, but in the end, it's worth it. 

“I look back at all the reasons that I could have given up, and they are valid reasons: being a mom, working full time, financial stress, and Covid. But I will be the first to understand. I am the first to keep going when quitting feels more logical. I am the first to wake up before the sun to study. I am the first to have a panic attack over that test I failed. I am the first to watch my bank account go into the negative and wonder if this was a good idea.”

She sees this journey as inspirational and hopes her three children follow in her footsteps. “The beautiful thing about being a first-generation student is that you most likely won't be a last-generation student, she said. “You are taking with you the dreams and the hard work of all the generations before you and setting the course for the generations to come.” 

Dr. Larry Pakowski

Larry PakowskiThis summer, Dr. Larry Pakowski became the Vice President for Student Engagement, Inclusion, and Success at Aims. He is the first person in his family to hold a bachelor’s degree (let alone a doctorate).  His parents attended community colleges in North Carolina and always encouraged him to go to college. This encouragement to go further than anyone else in his family inspired him to attend the University of North Carolina Wilmington for his bachelor’s and masters and, eventually, Florida State University for his doctorate. 

He has three pieces of advice for all college students, especially first-generation students. 

  1. Ask questions…you are almost certainly not the only one who has the question.
  2. Your major probably will change (he wanted to study geology when he started college).
  3. Find your tribe – finding those people who will support your success and help you pick yourself up when you are down is key! 

“In the end, believe in yourself, make use of the resources available to you, and try to slow down and enjoy your college experience!”

Arizbe Soto-Ramirez

Arizbe Soto-RamirezIn 2015, Arizbe was inspired to go to college by her high-school-aged daughter, who aspired to go to college. During this time, she was in transition from working a full-time job to taking care of her mother. Arizbe pursued a degree at Aims to be able to get a better job and provide for her family once she reentered the workforce. Arizbe transferred to the University of Northern Colorado to obtain her bachelor’s degree and completed her master's at UNC last summer. 

“My family has been my greatest support team during my whole journey,” she said. Arizbe also found support from Aims faculty and staff, who encouraged her to keep going and be a role model for her daughters and grandchildren. 

“What I have learned during this whole process is that my daughters are no longer able to claim that they are first-generation students, but I hope the stigma that Latinas do not go college is broken.”

Arizbe isn’t only inspiring her loved ones but many more first-generation students as an advisor with the TRIO Student Support Services program at Aims. Her biggest piece of advice is, “you truly can do this, no matter how difficult some days may seem. There is light at the end of the tunnel and it includes someone reading your name as you walk across the stage.”

TRIO Student Support Services

Did you know that 49 percent of Aims students identify as first-generation? TRIO Student Support Services guides many Aims first-gen students to achieve maximum academic success and career readiness. It is a federally funded program that came about through the HEA legislation. Aims students are encouraged to apply for TRIO to empower them to develop the academic skills and experiences necessary to complete their postsecondary educational goals.