Forging Connections Becomes Key Link to College Success
April 27, 2023
Looking at the number of programs and organizations Nursing senior Rosemary Gonzalez has been involved in during her time at UNC, it is hard to imagine how she felt first moving to Greeley – an imposter who didn’t belong.
“I am a first-generation student, so I had to navigate college on my own, which proved to be very difficult,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez grew up on the outskirts of Denver in the Montbello neighborhood. Her parents migrated here from El Salvador, a small country in South Central America.
“Both of my parents did not make it past high school in their education, so they were very adamant about me pursuing higher education,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez never pushed back on the goals her parents set for her. She was always a good student and enjoyed academia, but attending college without her parents fully understanding all the steps it takes to get there created some obstacles and adversities. Facing those is when Gonzalez realized that for her to be successful in higher education, she needed to find a new support system.
“I joined a lot of programs, a lot of organizations throughout my time here and that was the best decision I made,” Gonzalez said.
With a full courseload in the College of Natural and Health Sciences School of Nursing, Gonzalez’s schedule quickly filled up. She joined the Honors Interdisciplinary Program (HIP), which includes attending workshops, events and meetings with academic advisors. She also joined the Center for Human Enrichment (CHE), which provides care, encouragement and support to first-generation students. And she added the Student Nurses Association and a sorority to the list.
“I wanted to embrace my Latina roots, so my freshman year I joined Pi Lambda Chi Latina Sorority, Inc. and ever since I’ve been holding many positions like president, secretary and I joined the Multicultural Greek Council Board as secretary and treasurer,” Gonzalez said.
Her participation in different programs introduced Gonzalez to new people, resources and opportunities. During her sophomore and junior year, Gonzalez was a Reisher Scholarship recipient, which awards first-generation students who demonstrate academic and leadership potential as an undergraduate.
“It was really great to connect with yet another community of first-gen students who were in the same spot as me,” Gonzalez said. “Reisher was really able to lift that financial burden off my back and allow me to join all these extra-curricular activities and not have to worry about working as much as I already do to meet my needs.”
Even the jobs Gonzalez decided to take on expanded her roots in UNC’s community. She worked at the Center for Career Readiness helping out with resumes and mock interviews with students looking to enter the professional world.
“It’s really exciting to be able to connect one resource to another resource,” Gonzalez said. “I can connect my sorority sisters to the Center for Career Readiness. For my friends at Reisher, I can connect them to Greek life, and for the people in CHE, I can connect them to the Honors Program. I think it’s really great that I have all these different relationships that can help other people out because, at the end of the day, all we have is each other while we’re away from our families."
Above: Some of Gonzalez's college experiences with her peers
After graduation, Gonzalez plans to continue building her community as a pediatric trauma nurse.
“Trauma is my calling,” Gonzalez said. “I really enjoy the adrenaline rush and the intensity of it. It gives me something new every day and it’ll push me in ways that I'm probably not even ready for yet.”
While Gonzalez may be experiencing some nervousness about her future, as most people do when starting their professional career, she knows she has core values she can rely on.
“My personal nursing philosophy stems from the life values instilled in me as a child,” Gonzalez said. “So, resilience, compassion, honesty and empathy. I want to form a nourishing relationship with patients and ensure that I provide quality, selfless and equal individual care for everyone. I do believe that’s not a skill that everyone possesses. It’s a commitment and a privilege to be able to be with these patients in the hospital during what could be really the worst moment of their life.”
Gonzalez’s experience at UNC has given her plenty of practice in developing the relationships she’s seeking professionally. It has taught her the valuable lesson that you get out what you put in.
"If you come to UNC to get your degree and just go to class and go home, then that’s what will happen. You will get your degree,” Gonzalez said. “But if you come to campus and you go to events and you support your community and you find connections, you will leave not only with a degree but with friendships and relationships. Whether personal or professional, you will leave with so many more connections and just more tenacity and perseverance to continue to grow as a person.”
So, while Gonzalez had to adjust to college life seemingly on her own, she took the necessary steps putting herself out there to discover that she is not an imposter and that she belongs.
“My journey here has been difficult, it’s been memorable, but most of all, beautiful,” Gonzalez said.
Along with the Reishner Family Scholarship, Gonzalez is also a recipient of the Courage to Excel Scholarship.
– written by Sydney Kern
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As a first-generation, multilingual, graduating senior from Haiti, J.P. Gaspard’s accomplishment of earning his Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education is no small feat – and he has no plans to take a break from overcoming obstacles now.
Jerry Guzman, a Sociology major, was raised by non-native English speaking parents who did not attend college. They emphasized the significance of education and hard work in the classroom, which has influenced Guzman’s values today.
For Nikaiya Lawson, an Art and Design student graduating from UNC this spring, art is a safe place. After a suicide attempt at age 14, it has been the space where she finds meaning and can freely express her identity without limits.