Diversity & Inclusion

Office of University Diversity and Inclusion

I Am First Gen Staff and Administrators

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Dr. Jeffrey Armstrong

President, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Contact Jeffrey Armstrong

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Physiology

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Work hard and stay true to your values.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

I am grateful for the many doors education has opened for my family. A college education not only transforms the individual but also changes generations that follow. Our two children attended college and we expect all our grandchildren and beyond to attend college as well.

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Dr. Denise Isom

Interim Vice President for Diversity & Equity and Chief Diversity officer

Contact Denise Isom

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. Socio-Cultural Anthropology of Education

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Some of what you may perceive as lack is really your super power. I used to see the expectations that some had of me as the first to go to college as a burden and undue pressure...now I see that those hopes and dreams became part of my purpose, they propel and empower me. Knowing that what I do has meaning, that it ripples throughout my family and beyond, is part of what makes me strive to do even more.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

I know that I bring a perspective, sets of skills and experiences that others around me may not have, and that unique frame is part of what makes my voice, my analysis, my contributions valuable in ways I had not imagined. It is part of what I love about Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton...it took the son of Puerto Rican immigrants to read the bio of Alexander Hamilton and see an immigrant tale and hear a hip-hop sound track...the world needs all of our voices!

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Dr. Jamie Patton

Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, Diversity and Inclusion

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Degree(s) Earned

Ed.D. Higher Education Leadership

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Get involved and create a network to support you. Your family loves you, but sometimes your family will not understand your experiences as a student. Keep your family close, but also make this your home! You belong here! Your network should include one faculty member, an upperclass student, a peer and one administrator. These individuals will help you to navigate college and will be your champions of success.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

My experience as a first-generation college student has allowed me to push boundaries and expectations. My experiences, on all three levels, feeds my passion to be sure that students and their supporters know about the resources that are available and know they have some that will help when needed.

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Delfina Medina

Assistant Director of financial aid & Scholarships

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Degree(s) Earned

B.S. Social Science, Organizations Concentration

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Be proactive from the beginning, join clubs & organizations where you can meet other students that share your interests. Don't be afraid to ask questions! Email, schedule virtual appointments, meet your college Department and Dean.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

I thought I came to CP prepared, but I quickly realized I had a lot to learn in order to navigate my academic life. Deadlines, forms, rules, in addition to class work.

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Beya Makekau

Interim Director, Student Diversity & Belonging

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Degree(s) Earned

MA in Ethnic Studies

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

There may not be a roadmap for you that can guide you through every uncertain turn but you can do this. You are resilient, worthy, and capable. Don't be afraid to ask questions, say what you need, and be aware that the new experiences and language you are learning does not separate you from those you love most but instead serves as a bridge to new worlds for all of you. Always remember you are here with purpose, on purpose.

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Dawin Whiten

Cal Poly Scholars Lead Advisor

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Degree(s) Earned

MA in Kinesiology – Sport Management

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Take advantage of the resources, faculty, and staff available to you at Cal Poly to help you with your academics and your transition into and out of Cal Poly into the world beyond.

There are many people at Cal Poly who identify as first-generation. Open yourself up to guidance and support from faculty and staff as you navigate your way through Cal Poly.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

I had a strong relationship with my athletic academic advisor who helped me navigate changing majors and getting tutoring when I struggled with my classes. He was also someone I could go to to talk about personal challenges I was having and offered campus resources to help me overcome them.

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Juliette Duke

Senior Director University Housing/Director of Residential Student Experience

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Degree(s) Earned

Masters of Education, College Student Affairs

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Don't be afraid to ask for help and do your best to make connections at Cal Poly. Everyone's goal is to help you to graduate and be successful at and after Cal Poly. There are a lot of resources (academic and non-academic) on campus to help students to be successful. Find and take advantage of all of them. These include free tutoring, writing center, academic advisors, etc.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

I didn't have a lot of guidance in my college application and in my first year. I decided to take advantage of the many opportunities on campus. Those experiences helped me to feel connected to my University and to want to provide the same experience for students. It lead me to my current career path as I believe everyone should have the ability to attend college and have a successful experience.

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Tatiana Mendoza

Financial Aid Counselor

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Degree(s) Earned

BS in Economics

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Believe that you are meant to be here! You belong here. Try to find a community with whom you connect. Try out one of the many clubs on campus. If you are struggling, connect with faculty or staff so we can help you navigate your college journey.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

As a first-generation college student I didn’t always know the answers, nor did my parents. As a Financial Aid Counselor, my goal is to be there for students who are going through a similar college experience as mine. My hope is that I can help make the college experience a bit easier to navigate for other students.

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Jamie O'Kane

Administrative Support Assistant, Architectural Engineering

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Degree(s) Earned

BS in Environmental Earth Science

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Find mentors who inspire you and friends who share your drive for success. Remember that college isn't about remembering everything you learn- it's about teaching yourself how to learn.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

In addition to being a first-gen college student, I was also a student parent and a transfer student. My child was only 1 month old when my Cal Poly acceptance letter came in the mail. Setting an example for my son drove my work ethic to the next level. Being a student parent was amazing and held a unique set of challenges but also opportunities. There are so many resources and scholarships out there for you if you are a student parent. I am happy to have a chat over a cup of coffee with any student parent to swap stories, laughter and/or tears!

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Lilianne Tang

Social Justice & Multicultural Program Coordinator, Student Diversity & Belonging

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Degree(s) Earned

M.Ed in Higher Education

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

No matter how nervous, doubtful, or scared you are of asking for something, always advocate for yourself because if not, the answer is automatically no. We've been taught to put our heads down and not ask for help, to work hard and not look like we're incapable, to fake it until we make it as to not be a burden on others. That doesn't benefit anyone besides those who already have support and power! Speak up for what you believe in and always say what you need. You'd be surprised what comes from it sometimes.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

Being a first-generation college student often means that we’ve been socialized to see ourselves as a deficit - feeling like we never have enough and that we’re lacking the knowledge and skills to successfully navigate college. I felt these things both as an undergraduate and graduate student. However, I’ve learned that being first-generation actually equipped me with other forms of capital not often valued or talked about enough. Yosso calls this ‘community cultural wealth,’ which is wealth that is born out of our unique experiences from holding different marginalized identities.

As the eldest daughter who grew up taking care of my sister and supporting my refugee parents with navigating social services, I held much more knowledge and skills than I was led to believe as a first-generation college student. Because of my lived experiences, I had developed a strong commitment to community well-being and it was important for me to work collectively and to feel interconnected in my relationships with others. It is because of my ability to foster relationships and build community on campus that I was able to successfully graduate from college and be where I am today. Community supported me, invested in me, believed in me, advocated for me, validated me, uplifted me, celebrated me, and fought alongside me. Unpacking and understanding my first-generation college student experience allowed me to embrace my identities as an asset to my college career. Doing so unlocked a world of possibilities for me and I am a proud first-generation college graduate who is among the 5% of Cambodian Americans who hold a graduate degree.

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Alicia Cruz

Academic Advisor, Mustang Success Center

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Degree(s) Earned

MS in Higher Education Counseling and Student Affairs

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

My advice for a first-generation college student at Cal Poly is to always remember where you come from, value the good and bad experiences you have faced because these make you strong and wise, and envision yourself achieving your dreams and aspirations in life. When you face challenges, remember there is a whole community of students, staff, and faculty who are rooting for you and want to see you succeed. When things get rough, don't be afraid to reach out for help and take time for yourself. Self-care is so important - whether it is doing something for yourself physically, mentally, or emotionally; it is okay to slow down. I hope that college is everything you hoped it would be and it pushes you a bit out of your comfort zone, because that is were growth comes from. Most importantly, your experiences are valid, and you belong at Cal Poly!

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Nury Baltierrez

Educational Opportunity Program Counselor

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Degree(s) Earned

MA in Counseling & Guidance in Higher Education/Student Affairs

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

College can be scary and exciting all at the same time. Utilize campus resources, get involved, step out of your comfort zone, and don’t be afraid, embarrassed, or ashamed to reach out for help. We all are here to support you! Know that you worked hard to get to where you are at and own it! Don’t doubt yourself, you belong here.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

My family was always supportive of my decision to go to college, but as supportive as they were, they couldn’t share their knowledge on how to navigate a campus. They didn’t understand my challenges or successes and often times I felt a lot of pressure to succeed because I was the first to go to college so failing or dropping out was not an option. I realized I couldn’t navigate college alone so I joined clubs that aligned with my interests, went to office hours, and connected with mentors. Once I found my community, I felt connected to the campus and a greater sense of belonging.

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Lindsay Lacey

Academic Advisor, Mustang Success Center

Contact Lindsay Lacey

Degree(s) Earned

MA in Higher Education, Counseling and Guidance

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Ask ALL the questions. Even the ones that feel silly, even the ones that you think you "should" know the answer to. Ask your professors, your department, your advisors, your counselors, your peers. It can feel intimidating, and may feel like you're "showing your cards." But you can save yourself from so much struggle just by asking the questions... you don't have to figure it all out on your own!!!

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Kari Howell

Program Coordinator, Cal Poly Scholars

Contact Kari Howell

Degree(s) Earned

MA in Educational Leadership and Administration

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Seek resources, ask questions, and find other first-gen students! It can be so challenging and disheartening to navigate a system not built for you - find your people who can help guide you or who make great company for the trip.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

As a first-generation, low-income college student, I often felt alone or out-of-the-loop. I found community in my fellow EOP friends and in the EOP counselors. They helped me name my feelings, which helped me learn from them.

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Susana Garcia

Catering Sales Coordinator

Contact Susana Garcia

Degree(s) Earned

B.S. in Hospitality and Tourism

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Keep at it and never stop learning.

Identifying as a first-gen or minority should never stop you from doing your best. If anything, it's one more thing to add to your list of super powers.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

Growing up in a traditional Mexican household, I faced many challenges with convincing my parents to support my move out of our small town to attend college in the Bay Area. However, growing up in a Latino based community helped assimilate into the various cultures that live in the Bay Area. None of it was a culture shock. I loved every second of living in an area where as a Mexicana, I was not the only minority.

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Moncerratt Peralta

Digital Media Specialist, College of Engineeering

Contact Moncerratt Peralta

Degree(s) Earned

M.S. Instructional Science & Technology

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

You're not alone. Connect with peers who have similar goals, and support each other.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

I had the opportunity to meet wonderful people from all walks of life, many of whom I consider to be my mentors and life-long friends.

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Rachel Smith

Student Conduct Investigator

Contact Rachel Smith

Degree(s) Earned

MA in Education, Counseling and Guidance/Higher Education & Student Affairs

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

You are worthy and you deserve to be at Cal Poly! Imposter syndrome is real but always remember you matter and that Cal Poly is a better place because you're here.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

My experience as a first-generation college student impacted my career trajectory. I decided to pursue a career in Higher Education to help other first-generation college students navigate college for the first time. The support I received from faculty and staff was immeasurable and I wanted to provide the same for students.

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Maria Zavala

Academic Advisor, Engineering Student Services

Contact Maria Zavala

Degree(s) Earned

MA in Education Leadership and Administration

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Don't be afraid to ask for help! Build a support group for yourself that includes, faculty, staff, peers of all levels and majors, that way you have someone to go to for help when needed in area personal or academic. The quarter system goes by very fast, use time management wisely, make sure you familiarize yourself with campus resources. Lastly, be kind to yourself, get plenty of sleep, take breaks, have snacks. We all want to see you succeed!

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

Being a first-generation student taught me that I have to work hard to accomplish my tasks. It gave me the strength, motivation and resilience to keep going even after you experience setbacks. It has also taught me to reach out to others for help. I developed great friendships and have had some really wonderful mentors who helped shape my path and provided guidance and mentorship when I needed it. I continue to use these skills as a working professional today.

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Mei Emerald Gaffey

Administrative Support Coordinator, Ethnic Studies Department

Contact Mei Emerald Gaffey

Degree(s) Earned

BA in Economics

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

You are already a success story. Don’t let the pressures and expectations of others define you. Being first gen is hard, because there are so many things your family network can’t explain to you, or support you through. Let us be your family network-ask for help, even if you feel silly doing it. Your future is worth it!

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

I went to a small private university. As a first generation minority student I had to face my own insecurities about belonging, and own responsibility for my future in a way that others in my cohort did not. I had to acquire social and institutional knowledge more rapidly than others, to be able to achieve the same level of navigation. I also had to justify (and balance the imposed guilt of) physically separating from family to attend a University, while maintaining responsibilities of familial expectations from people that did not understand the pressures of being in university. Being a first gen student forced me to hone skills of negotiation, priority planning and independence.

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Robyn Kontra Tanner

Senior Storyteller, University Communications & Marketing

Contact Robyn Kontra Tanner

Degree(s) Earned

BS in Journalism

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

You have earned the right to be here at Cal Poly. Take up space in our campus community - you are who this university is made to serve. Leverage any and every resource Cal Poly has to move yourself in the direction of your goals. Keep going!

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

It was difficult not having family members really understand how much work it takes to complete your degree. I was a student athlete as well, and it was a whole new level of work ethic and focus. It could feel a little isolating not being able to relate to my parents about what it was like. And I was terrified of making any mistakes academically. But that made me connect with my peers a lot more and develop confidence in myself as an individual.

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Julia Jones

Administrative Support Coordinator, Kinesiology & Public Health Department

Contact Julia Jones

Degree(s) Earned

BS in Business Administration

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Keep going! The first year of college was extremely hard for me. I didn't have good study skills, I missed my family and friends and I wanted to change schools to be closer to them. Once I found balance between studying, self-care, working and friendship, I was able to thrive. I even had the opportunity to study abroad and graduated a semester early! If I could do it, I know you can too.

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Sandy Jimenez

Academic Advisor, mustang Success center

Contact Sandy Jimenez

Degree(s) Earned

MA in Postsecondary Educational Leadership and Student Affairs

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Sometimes, things will not make sense, people will not be nice, and life will feel out of place, but you BELONG and are NEVER alone. Find your people and your community and work hard to live freely and authentically. Shine in your own light and don't ever let people overshadow your presence and potential. You matter!

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

Being a first-gen student, I often times did not know what to do, who to go to for support, or how to stay engaged. I struggled to make meaning out of my education and struggled to find my community. However, being a first-gen student also taught me a lot about myself and my potential. This identity gave me the self-awareness that I have now and built up my resilience.

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Jessica Nombrano Larsen

Administrative Support Coordinator, Liberal Arts & Engineering Studies Program

Contact Jessica Nombrano Larsen

Degree(s) Earned

MA in English

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Do not be afraid (or ashamed) to ask for help! College is a very different world, both academically and socially/emotionally, and doing it on your own without family members who have experienced it and have advice for you, is difficult. Make sure you know about all the resources and support services that are available to you, and be sure to use them whenever you need to. Succeeding in college is a group effort, and there are many people on-campus that would love to help you. Remember, be courageous, be confident, and be smart enough to know when to ask for help.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

It made me realize I was stronger and more intelligent than I ever gave myself credit for. Unfortunately, I did not ask for help when I needed it, and trying to do everything on my own had a negative impact on my mental health. That is why I have dedicated my professional life to helping other first-generation, underrepresented college students succeed in college and beyond.

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Michael Eberhard

Assistant Director, WITH US

Contact Michael Eberhard

Degree(s) Earned

MS in Educational Administration and Leadership

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Get involved in clubs and organizations. Attend career fairs. Go to office hours with your faculty. The network you create for yourself will help reveal what is next after graduation and will ensure you have the support system to move forward.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

It was hard. I thought about quitting many times because it didn't feel like college was for people like me. The community I made in joining my fraternity made me feel like I belonged and my peers helped me navigate areas of college during times others might seek out their parents.

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