First-Gen Undergrad: Alejandro Ruelas-Mora (Oakes '21, Intensive Psychology and Sociology with a concentration in GISES)

photo of alejandro mora smiling in yellow beanie and brown fur jacketBackground: I am a first-gen Latino transfer student. I came from a family of immigrants, some mixed-status and some are not. I grew up with ADHD and that maneuvered a lot of my early life. ADHD has caused many difficulties in my life while paving a different road that many people do not take. I had no idea who I can talk about this with. There was no one that I knew who had ADHD but one person did have ADD. The rest of the people in my high school didn't talk about it and mental health was not supported or normalized on my campus. The effects from this carried on to my community college, where I did receive a family through the form of Puente, but I did not feel the support of my mental health through my internalized feelings of how everyone generally felt about people with mental health problems. I also met my lovely partner in community college who has been a vital support system through my current time in higher education.

What motivated you to go to college?: The Latinx community has a common theme of having parents cross the border in exchange for giving their children a better opportunity and thanking themselves for making us go to college. While the foundation was there, I was the person who went to college and made myself go to college. My parents were my motivation in the beginning. I thought that their efforts were worth something and I could not waste my potential by working a low-paying job. My motivation is to not allow my parents to suffer in the future while not attempting to cause the future generation to suffer financially. I wanted to go to college to earn a high paying job to help support my family and my children when I decided to have some. I internalized the idea of "being something that my parents couldn't become because they gave it all up after crossing the border". I wanted to be that person that my parents could be proud of and a model child that my parents expected me to be.

What's the biggest challenge you encountered as a first-gen student and how did you overcome it?: My parents had no idea how college truly worked and I ended up going to Ohlone Community College because it was the college that "everyone went to". The other people from my high school looked up to CSU's and UC's like a low-income individual who commonly idolizes a mansion. I went to community college and felt like it was an extension of high school. The Puente program helped lay the foundation and I ended up figuring out how to put all the pieces of my future together. I started taking advantage of opportunities and looked for on-campus jobs while I was networking around the campus. I received various opportunities through the form of jobs, conferences, and field trips. I ended up transferring with a goal in mind, through the help of various professors in Ohlone, and transferred to UCSC.

How has your background helped you?: While being a POC (Person of Color) has its drawbacks, I was able to find support systems that were there to help people like me. Programs like Puente and MECHA are there to help people like me. There are also programs like the DRC (Disability Resource Center) that help neurodivergent people. I was able to change my internalized beliefs when I transferred to UCSC out of anxiety that I do not belong in higher education and that I can not do anything by myself. I sought for help in places that I did not normally seek help from. I found more resources for people like me and was able to find out that it was not bad to do so. The stigmas I have about people who are disabled are a product of the community that I was brought up in. I am trying to change this but my background has allowed me to become more confident in myself than I was one year ago when I transferred to UCSC in FALL 2019.

What would you tell my first-year self now? You can make it. You may feel like you are different from most people, and you are, but you are special. You have a lot of potential inside of you. You just need a creative outlet to release all of that potential and succeed. You should take as many opportunities as you can because they are there to help boost you up. You will be marketable. You are intelligent and adaptable. You are creative. Don't look down at yourself or others like you while you compare disabled individuals with abled individuals. While you may be "disabled", just let that be a label that does not define your ability to succeed. You are much more than the checkbox that people would place you under. You are going to be happy, just keep putting in the effort and you will go far. You are worth it.

What was the best thing about your college experience?: My friends, I have gained along the way, and finding the person I call as my soulmate was the best thing about my college experience. I can talk about all of my internship experiences or educational experiences, but what helped me more is the people who have truly supported me. I may still be in a similar position, an undergrad student at a four-year institution, but I don't believe that I would be as confident or as prepared if it weren't for the support systems that I have gained along the way. I have learned so much from them, from restaurants to internships or educational topics. I have learned a wide array of topics and they have helped me grow from a once shy individual.

How has being a first-gen student influenced you (and/or your work) now?: Being a first-gen student has made me feel more confident in myself now. I have accomplished so much without having any resources given to me. I was the type of person that sought after stuff as nothing in my life was given to me. My accomplishments are all hard-earned. I have had to work hard and I have thought of the questions: "what if I was surrounded by opportunities and extra support before when I needed it? Would I still be as successful, if not more? Has my experiences made me humble?". I feel like I can do anything. As a disabled first-gen student of color, I feel like I can do anything. My optimism has been slowly increasing while my confidence has been increasing alongside it. I have been influenced in helping other students, typically first-gen, students of color, or "disabled" students gain a higher ground in whatever they are trying to accomplish. This is seen through my internships and my educational experience.