First-Gen Undergrad: Amaris Trujillo (Cowell '22, Psychology and Legal Studies Major with a Minor in Latin American Latino Studies)

selfie of amaris trujillo smilingBackground: My name is Amaris Trujillo and I am from a small rural community near Sacramento, California.  I am the daughter of two very hard-working parents from Durango and Guanajuato, Mexico. Being one of the oldest out of both sides of my family, I want to set a positive example not only for my little brother but also for my younger cousins.  For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to help people in my community.  I volunteered extensively during my high school years and still continue to be active in Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Me2u Homelessness Project.  I am a third-year undergraduate student majoring in Psychology and Legal Studies with a minor in Latin American & Latino Studies. In the future, I hope to be working with immigrants within my career, either as a psychologist focusing on the psychological effects of immigration or as an immigration defense attorney.

What motivated you to go to college?: I was motivated to attend a higher education institution from a very young age. My parents have always emphasized the importance of education as it can open future opportunities.  Another motivation to attend college is my passion for learning. I believe that college allows individuals to find their passion in addition to fostering an environment for psychological growth. 

What's the biggest challenge you encountered as a first-gen student and how did you overcome it?: One of the greatest challenges I have faced as a first-gen student is the sense that I didn’t belong in college.  I found it really challenging to overcome new obstacles such as being away from home and being separated from my family for the first time.  There were many times where I questioned my abilities.  Another challenge I faced as a first-gen student was the constant feeling that I had missed opportunities because I lacked the knowledge of resources available.  On the upside, from my failures and missed opportunities, I can guide my younger brother and other first-gen students on how to take advantage of the opportunities and resources available to them.

How has your background helped you?: My parent’s story of immigrating to the U.S. has been my main motivation throughout college. Having heard the hardships my grandparents and parents went through to provide themselves a better future for their family, it has allowed me to truly appreciate the privileges I receive.  My family’s background has allowed me to persevere amidst obstacles as well as given me the motivation to continue to reach my highest goals. 

What would you tell my first-year self now?: If I could tell my first-year self one thing, it would be to believe in myself and my abilities. I think a majority of first-gen students question their capabilities especially when they are surrounded by peers who have guidance when it comes to higher education. I would also like to tell myself that it is okay to make mistakes. During my first year, I viewed all of my mistakes as failures. I think it’s important for first-gen students to recognize that in order to improve, mistakes must be made and learned from. 

What was the best thing about your college experience?: The best part of my college experience has been the ability to surround myself with like-minded individuals although we are very diverse. We come from different parts of the world, have different upbringings, but yet we share common goals.  Having attended a small high school, I wasn’t able to find the open-mindedness that is seen at UCSC. I have also been blessed to be friends with individuals that motivate each other to be better and to overcome challenges. I believe it's essential to have a solid source of support in college, especially for first-gen students.

How has being a first-gen student influenced you (and/or your work) now?: Being first-gen has given me a sense of confidence and pride.  When I am asked to introduce myself, I am always eager to include that I am a first-gen student.  This pride comes from the ability to defy the odds and break a familial cycle by making it into college.  First-gen students face many challenges, after looking back at what I have overcome, it has given me the confidence to believe that I can achieve anything.