SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – Dozens of San Diego first-generation college students were celebrated and honored Monday as they got ready to start a new chapter in their young lives.
First Gen Scholars is a local nonprofit to support underserved, low-income high school students who would be the first in their family to attend college. Several of those students who were recognized on Monday are getting full-ride scholarships to Ivy League schools.
"I'm going to Dartmouth College on a full-ride scholarship,” said First Gen Scholars member Victoria Ruiz.
"I still wake up and I'm just amazed like, 'I'm going to Harvard,” added Arsema Aklog.
"I'm super happy today just to even stand here and say, 'Oh, I'm going to Yale,'" said Johana De La Torre.
The group provides support to first generation students by helping them through the college application process and connecting them to resources.
First Gen Scholars Executive Director Jonathan Burgos said these Class of 2022 students have been awarded million dollars in scholarship money.
"When we did the numbers, in addition to grants which is what they get through FAFSA, they've actually earned more than $7 million in scholarships. So, what that equates to is that eight out of every 10 students in our program, they're on track to graduate with zero debt,” said Burgos.
Ruiz is one of those who students who will have someone special watching down on her on Monday and for the rest of her collegiate career.
"My dad was such a great inspiration for me. But, sadly, after my first year of starting to school in the U.S., he passed away. But, I kind of use this hat and everything that he taught me as a reminder of where I come from, who I am and just kind of an inspiration to keep driving my goals,” Ruiz said.
The founder himself is a first-generation student.
"Where families like even as a college graduate, ten years later, they're still paying that loan. And that loan balance is even higher than when they first started. I feel like that's something that's a barrier we needed to remove,” Burgos said. “And all we're doing is help them share their story and using that story to apply for scholarships."
As these students eagerly turn the page to a new chapter, they're thankful for those who helped them chart their course to college.
“They always say it takes a village and I'm so, so fortunate to have found my village in both my family and First Gen,” Aklog said.
"I always share with them and let them know that even though it sounds like ordinary what they do, someone in admissions when they read their story that ordinary story become extraordinary,” Burgos said. “For me to help them feel that and understand that is one thing. For them to own it, that's when I know they'll be ready to go to college and graduate."
First Gen Scholars says they are still recruiting for the class of 2023 program. The application is on their website.