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Manuel Martinez Hernandez

Alpha: Cindy Avitia High School, 2019
Success Story

Manuel Martinez Hernandez

Prior to my first year of college, I can confidently say that Apha’s College prep class at Cindy Avitia High School prepared me for many of the obstacles I would face as a first gen college student. I remember that as I prepared for the college application process with Ms. Mezia and Ms. Estrada, they were also very honest about how imposter syndrome might show up in college: the feeling of not belonging, and comparing ourselves to peers who have had generations of family before them graduate from college. We also discussed, on various occasions, what emotions might come up when leaving my family for the first time. 

Although I was aware of these emotions, it did not mean I was immune. In my first year, these feelings hit me like a truck. I often found myself wandering around campus aimlessly, trying multiple clubs, interacting with many people and still found it difficult to make connections even with people I shared similar backgrounds with. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t belong. I felt alone. I was 382 miles away from my family in a completely different environment, and had to completely reintegrate myself into a new community.

 In addition, it was challenging to open up to my family about these feelings through the phone. How do I communicate to them that I feel like I don’t belong, that I may not meet their expectations? I carried their hopes, dreams, passions, and admiration on my shoulders. How could I let them know that in those very moments, I felt like quitting? During all of those phone calls back home, I wanted to break down and be vulnerable, but then my mom would tell me how proud she was of me. She would remind me of all the extra curricular activities she enrolled me in and how they paid off. She would tell me that she was proud that she would  finally see her own child walk the stage because she never finished her sophomore year of high school, and my dad never finished middle school. Once I heard those words, I would bite my tongue, swallow my emotions. I couldn’t let them know my true feelings and worse yet, I didn’t want them to know.

Those thoughts and emotions persisted until Alyssa, my Alpha: Alumni Success Advisor contacted me and informed me that she would be driving six hours and 47 mins to check in on me. Up until that point, I never contacted Alyssa or the Alumni Success Program. It didn’t even occur to me because I was in such a daze. For the first time, I was able to speak openly about my mental health, and I felt she understood me as a first gen graduate herself. I felt I could relate to Alyssa, even with the emotions I was feeling. I knew about UCR’s mental health services, but up to this point I had not taken advantage of them as a resource. Alyssa encouraged me to seek out support from UCR’s mental health services, and she even sent me to make an appointment. For those of you in the Latin community, you may be aware about how mental health and therapy is stigmatized in our community. It isn’t always taken seriously, and I was one of those individuals who downplayed my mental health. I had to come to terms with the fact I was not doing well. People like Alyssa and my partner were responsible for holding that mirror up to my face. They encouraged me to get the help I needed.

During this time in college,  I also couldn’t afford school supplies because finding a job was difficult. Alyssa informed me about the Last Dollar Scholarship that the Alumni Success Program offers. With that money, I bought my textbooks and other school supplies that I was lacking. I truly believe that if the Alumni Success team was not around, I would have fallen behind in my courses, and my mental health would not have improved the way it has. Without this program, I fear many more first generation college students may face the same emotional challenges that come with leaving your family and community for the first time. The efforts that Alyssa and the Alpha: Alumni Success Program made reignited my passion to pursue higher education. I have since then received my degree, and work for the Alpha Community in hopes to be that support system for the next generation.

All in all, I share my story in hopes that you can empathize with my lived experience, and see for yourself that the Alumni Success Program is a beacon of light for a lot of first-generation, low-income students like myself. 


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