First-Gen Student Hopes To Create A Path For Others
Going to college was always a priority for Gabriella “Gabby” Gomez ’23. Now, as a senior telecommunications major on track to graduate from Texas A&M University in the spring, she hopes to remind other first-generation students that despite the challenges, getting a degree is possible.
Gomez grew up in a small family in Dallas. Neither of her parents attended college — her mom didn’t have the opportunity to go, and her dad didn’t complete his degree. Because of this, Gomez’s parents made sacrifices to try and set her up for a successful future, one of which was working long hours to ensure she had a solid education.
“Through middle school, my brother and I went to private school,” Gomez said. “During the summers, my brother and I stayed with other family members. My parents couldn’t afford to take time off from work because they were saving for the next school year.”
For high school, Gomez attended a small charter school that focused on career and college preparation. While there, she considered attending college out of state like her friends but ultimately decided that staying in Texas would be a better choice financially. She was originally drawn to Texas A&M because one of her former teachers attended the university.
“One of my childhood teachers/mentors came to A&M, and she is one of the best people I know,” Gomez said. “‘I want to be just like her.’”
After looking into the university more, she was set on becoming an Aggie.
Coming to A&M as First-Gen
Even though she attended a college preparatory school, Gomez was unprepared to navigate the financial challenges involved with higher education. She asked for her parents’ guidance on filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and loan applications, but they didn’t know how to help her.
“I called the Money Education Center, I called the financial aid office, and asked, ‘What do I do? Who do I go to?’” Gomez said. “I didn’t have credit. I don’t know anything about money. I’m scared of committing some sort of fraud.”
Figuring out her finances was only one challenge Gomez faced. When she got to campus, she didn’t know what to expect and struggled to find people with whom she identified.
“I didn’t know what college classes were going to be like or how to talk to a professor,” Gomez said. “My parents didn’t experience this, so I can’t look to them for help like someone [whose] parent has gone through this could.”
After attending remotely during her second semester because of COVID-19, Gomez came back to campus and focused on improving her mental health. She became a resident advisor and joined Her Campus at TAMU, a student organization that made her feel like she belonged. By her junior year, Gomez felt like she had found her place at Texas A&M.
“I felt more confident, and found friends and a support system I love,” Gomez said. “I was making it through my classes and taking control of my mental health.”
As a senior, Gomez felt sure of her voice and identity, and she pursued a leadership position in her organization. She also received her Aggie Ring, something that physically represented how far she had come.
“Getting my ring and seeing my family so happy for me, even if they didn’t understand the tradition, it was really fulfilling,” Gomez said. “Being able to do it for myself, struggling with my mental health, and being able to learn how to navigate school and ask for help gave me a sense of pride.”
Paving the Way for Others
While she still faces difficulties as a first-generation student, Gomez remembers that she’s working to make herself and her family proud while simultaneously inspiring other first-generation, Latina students.
“For me, being a first-generation college student means that I can create a path for other people and rewrite my life story,” she said. “I want to make sure I can provide for the people I need to, support myself and rewrite the narrative of ‘Women can do this. Hispanics can do this. People can do this.’”
Reflecting on the past three-and-a-half years, Gomez says it’s unbelievable that she’s about to graduate and is proud to look at the challenges she’s overcome.
“Looking back at my journey as a first-gen, I think it’s something to be proud of,” she said. “First-generation students are helping to inspire others to set educational goals for themselves.”