Victoria College students recently had the opportunity to meet and interact with local professionals who were the first in their families to attend college during the KEY Center’s virtual First-Generation Panel Workshop.
Pam Neuman, Victoria College KEY Center director, hosted the event that featured Dr. Dante Garza along with former VC students and KEY Center members Anthony Norman, Joy Sixtos and Karla Creager as panelists. Each shared how they met the challenges of being the first college students in their families.
“It’s important for our students to make connections with professionals and to hear the struggles they faced when they were the first in their families to attend college,” Neuman said.
Garza’s family came to the United States from Mexico in 1980, and they struggled to adjust to a new language and culture.
“I had to go through the first two and one half years of high school just trying to learn English,” Garza said. “Nobody expected me to go to college, so I just went to work. Eventually, I took an entrance exam at San Antonio College. They said if I could pay for my classes, I could go to college.”
Garza began classes at SAC in 1985. It took him five years to earn an associate degree. He then transferred to Baylor University, where he gained a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. After four years of medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and three years of residency in Corpus Christi, Garza came to Victoria where he practices family medicine.
“Those five years trying to get a two-year degree were the toughest for me,” Garza said. “I still couldn’t speak the language very well. But I never gave up. Every time I failed a course, I took it again.”
Norman, who teaches mathematics at Edna High School, said he was inspired to go to college because his parents did not.
“My parents weren’t able to go to college,” Norman said. “I saw a lot of people not getting to do what they wanted to do in life, because they didn’t have the education to back it up.”
Norman utilized the resources at Victoria College’s KEY Center to excel academically and transferred to the University of Houston-Victoria, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
Creager earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in process technology in 2019.
“Everybody was welcoming at the KEY Center,” said Creager, who works for Dow Chemical as an operator. “The support, love and positive vibes from the KEY Center were important. I knew to never give up.”
Creager said she learned to get through the challenges by maintaining a positive attitude.
“If you’re struggling, it’s OK,” Creager said. “You have to learn from your mistakes and not beat yourself up. When you develop those habits, you rub off on other people and create a support group with the same mindset and goals.”
Sixtos, an academic adviser for the KEY Center, had to overcome her “fear of the unknown” after first stepping onto the Victoria College campus.
“My biggest challenge was just finding my way around,” said Sixtos, who obtained an Associate of Science degree from Victoria College before earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UHV and a master’s degree at Southwestern Assemblies of God University. “Once I got into a routine, I began to be confident in myself. I began asking questions. I knew I was a good student. I just had to adjust to realizing college was way different than high school.”
The KEY Center is a TRIO Student Support Services Program completely funded by the U.S. Department of Education that provides assistance for low-income, first-generation or disabled college students.
Services for KEY Center members include academic and career counseling, transfer assistance, individual tutoring, access to laptops and iPads, financial assistance, scholarships and free printing. For information on Victoria College’s KEY Center, call 361-582-2414 or email KEY@VictoriaCollege.edu.