A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip with my little brother, Eduardo. Eduardo, the baby in our family, is a senior in high school and officially the last “Renteria” to go to college. Given the ten-year age difference between him and I, he was lucky to grow up with college being a popular topic at the dinner table. He experienced dropping me off to college nine years ago, then experienced it again dropping off my sister two years ago. Still, a few months ago, as we discussed college applications, I faced a harsh reality: my little brother, the quiet, intelligent boy fascinated by STEM had very little exposure to colleges outside of UCR, the university which my sister and I both attended. It was then that I made it a priority to give him the opportunity to realize his options.
As I planned our three-day road trip through California that would allow us to visit five campuses with extraordinary engineering programs, I found myself resenting that I had not taken the time to take him out to explore more universities sooner. The thing is, even when college was a “given,” my family took for granted that while he was in school, working hard, thinking that if he performed well academically and got involved in enough extra-curricular activities, he would have it made. But it still wouldn’t be enough. The reality is, students like Eduardo can’t envision themselves in places they’ve never really been too. While UCR provided me an amazing college experience, I can acknowledge now that I may have limited myself by not looking into liberal art schools and perhaps even schools out-of-state. My sister took a similar route by also enrolling in the one university she felt most familiar with. While it is considered “success” for us both to have graduated high school and immediately enrolled into a four-year university, is it really success to settle? Perhaps that is a rhetorical question, but one thing I know for sure is that I want my brother to have options so that years from now, he doesn’t regret limiting himself to what he is comfortable with.
Eduardo reminds me that I have a personal responsibility to open doors of opportunity to ensure other students like him can realize that they have options. Yes, we are fortunate to be surrounded by an array of local universities that are accessible within distance but considering the endless opportunities available, it is important that we show our students that there is more outside of their comfort zone. With numerous universities doing work to make their programs more accessible to first-generation students as well as allocating extra resources to students who need it the most, it is critical that we guide our students to looking at schools that may not have been in their initial college list.
Even with non-profit organizations and TRIO programs working arduously to create more pathways of opportunity for our first-generation, low-income students, the work cannot stop there. We, as family, must make college a family affair.
Like my brother pointed out while we walked through Stanford’s main quad:
“Look at that boy playing the guitar. He’s just chilling there enjoying this place… I bet he’ll be applying here without even second guessing whether he belongs.”
We need to show OUR kids they belong in spaces like Stanford because the truth is, they can’t realize their full potential if they aren’t provided the opportunity to do so. So I urge you to make college exploration trips a part of your family trips. Together, we can make work to ensure more of our students apply to universities outside of their comfort zone, without second guessing whether they can make it.
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