Paying it Forward: From One First Gen Student to Another
Pre-Collegiate Scholars Coordinator Norma Marquez shares her experience with TRIO and CU DenverMar 20, 2023
My name is Norma Marquez and I am originally from Dublin, Texas, which is a small rural town. I graduated from the University of North Texas (UNT) with a Bachelors Degree in Spanish, and I am currently pursuing my Master's degree in Higher Education at the University of Colorado Boulder. I am proud to serve as the Pre-Collegiate Scholars Coordinator here at CU Denver, where I work with First Gen students as they navigate the college prep, search, and application process.
I am a proud daughter of hardworking immigrant parents. Education was never highly stressed in my family due to my parents’ busy schedule. Thankfully, there was an Upward Bound program at Tarleton State University institution in Stephenville, TX. Upward Bound serves first-generation high school students and assists them in pursuing a post-secondary education.
Upward Bound gave me the tools I needed to navigate my way through college. Without this program, I would have been lost in my journey at UNT. In fact, my first and only job in college was with TRIO, which is the organization/umbrella Upward Bound is under. I worked under four TRIO programs as a student assistant and many other roles. I also became a member of TRIO Student Support Services (SSS), which provided me further services that assisted me in being a first-generation college graduate. I was very involved on campus through my sorority, and studied abroad in Barcelona for a semester thanks to the on-going encouragement of SSS.
Although I was part of these programs, I always felt the need to be the “ideal” student and stick to the path I started on to graduate on time. That path was being an Occupation Therapist, a field I didn’t realize I didn’t want to pursue until my senior year of college. I had doubts for a couple of years, but never expressed them to my SSS advisor due to fear of letting her down—although she helped me greatly in my undergraduate journey. I had horrible imposter syndrome. Upon graduation, I was completely lost and ashamed of my situation. I was applying to just about any job without any real passion toward the career field. After weeks of searching, I gained a job at a non-profit organization as a Program Coordinator for a newly funded Upward Bound program in rural Texas, a role I was extremely proud of. I give all my thanks to this position due to the community I gained through TRIO services as an undergraduate student. Because of my experiences in many roles, I gained skills necessary to gain this specific one.
I made the decision to move to Colorado in 2019 with my partner and eventually ended up working with first-generation students once more. I started my role as the Scholars Program Coordinator with the Center for Pre-Collegiate and Academic Outreach Programs here at the University of Colorado Denver. I am passionate about my work with this center, as it serves first-generation students at a capacity I had not seen before.
I have been here for about a year-and-a-half and can see just how much community is important to our students, just as it was to me. I enjoy serving both our high school and college students and providing them with knowledge that may be critical to their post-secondary education goals. I use many of my own experiences as examples. I had many successes in college, but let many things get in the way of my academic success. My biggest advice to my students is to allow themselves to change their minds and to never feel ashamed to ask questions or speak out, that it’s important to take care of their mental health to avoid imposter syndrome. I advise them to find their community, as one staff, faculty member, or colleague can make a great impact in their educational journeys. Working for the University of Colorado Denver has made me feel part of an incredible community full of students whom I share many similar experiences with. I hope to continue to help the CU Denver community, assist students in their journeys, and perhaps be some part of their community on campus. CU Denver also has TRIO SSS and the McNair Scholars program. It is wonderful to be able to connect our Pre-Collegiate students to campus resources that provide support, access, and connection for First Gen students who come to CU Denver!