First-generation college graduates encourage VC KEY students

Dec. 29, 2016 at midnight

Seven first-generation college students spoke recently about their higher education experiences to VC students during a Q&A session at VC's KEY Center. Pictured, from left, are Jonathan Sixtos, Bridgette Marshall, Billy Lagal, Gail Janecka, Duane Orsbon, Lucy Gonzales and Eric Leonard.

Seven first-generation college students spoke recently about their higher education experiences to VC students during a Q&A session at VC's KEY Center. Pictured, from left, are Jonathan Sixtos, Bridgette Marshall, Billy Lagal, Gail Janecka, Duane Orsbon, Lucy Gonzales and Eric Leonard.   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

A panel of seven first-generation college students shared their higher-education experiences during a recent Q&A session with Victoria College students at VC's KEY Center.

A first-generation college student is typically referred to as a student whose parents or legal guardians have not completed a degree from a higher-education institution. Out of the 5,318 credit students enrolled at Victoria College for 2016, 33 percent indicated that neither of their parents had attended college.

The seven panelists expressed the importance of internal and external support systems for first-generation college students.

"You must have that fortitude to make sure you make a better life for yourself," said Victoria College Veterans Adviser Eric Leonard, who spent eight years in the U.S. Army before obtaining his bachelor's degree from Millikin University. "Where I grew up in South Chicago, no one around me was going to college. Even though I had very supportive parents, they can only do what they know."

"I always had that emotional support and moral support from my parents, which was very important," said Jonathan Sixtos, an English teacher at Victoria East High School who attended Victoria College before getting his bachelor's degree at Texas State University. "But my parents told me early on that I would have to do this through my own financial independence. Still, my parents supported me in other ways."

Billy Lagal, who is the director of admissions and recruitment at UHV, began his college education at VC before transferring to UHV, where he received his bachelor's and master's degrees. Lagal said he struggled academically when he first attended Victoria College, but was encouraged by his parents to see his college education through.

"It was always engrained in me that I was going to go to college," Lagal said. "It was something my parents always pushed. They didn't go to college, but they knew it would pay off for me."

Gail Janecka, a counselor at Smith Elementary School in Victoria, said she often sees many students who don't have the financial and emotional support from their families.

"But there is still support for you out there," Janecka told the students in attendance. "Just being a part of the KEY Center here at Victoria College, you have that great start that you need."

Duane Orsbon, a mechanical engineer at DuPont, didn't start taking college classes until after serving nine years in the military. He said his motivation to get his degree at Tennessee Tech University was pretty simple.

"I didn't want to be poor," Orsbon said. "It took me nine years to get my degree. I was taking a low number of hours while I was working, but I wasn't going to give up."

Bridgette Marshall, an associate English professor at VC, balanced motherhood and work to earn her bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Houston-Victoria.

"I started out as a traditional college student and progressed in my education continuously, but life happens," Marshall said. "I got my bachelor's degree to teach and kept going for my master's at night while raising my daughter. It took a little longer for me, but I still got the result I was after."

Lucy Gonzales, a social worker with the DeTar Healthcare System, said acquiring her bachelor's degree enabled her to explore more career options. Twenty years after obtaining her bachelor's degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Gonzales earned her master's from Texas State University.

"I got my bachelor's in psychology and began working in different areas helping people," Gonzales said. "Then I realized I needed to get an advanced degree and I chose social work because that's where I was getting experience and gravitating to. It took me a while to decide but I found out that is what I enjoyed."

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education to serve 165 students each year, the KEY Center at Victoria College is a TRiO Student Support Services program that offers a unique support system to help first-generation, low-income or disabled students successfully complete their degree, certificate or transfer.

For more information on VC's KEY Center, call 361-582-2414 or email Key@VictoriaCollege.edu.


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