She was the first in her family to go to college. Now she's helping others do the same.

When Alondra Palomino was a kid, she wanted so badly to go to college. But she just didn’t know if it was possible.

"I have a somewhat complex family dynamic," Palomino explains in an email. She grew up in Colorado, raised by her godparents — first in Denver, where she lived in a neighborhood that spoke only Spanish, and then in Thornton.

"Thornton was a huge culture shock to me. I began to realize what it truly meant to be considered a minority," she writes.


Alondra (left) facilitating a workshop. Image provided by Alondra Palomino, used with permission.

Palomino's mother immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico "in search of a better life," after having to quit school in seventh grade to work. Both she and Palomino's godparents stressed the importance of a college education, but none of them had any experience navigating the application process.

By the time Palomino reached high school, she knew she'd give anything to go to college. "I needed to be the role model for my younger sister and brother," she notes. "They needed to know that if I could do it, they could too."

She just had no idea how to get there.

Unfortunately, Palomino's story is not uncommon.

A 2014 study found that just 15% of Hispanic young adults (aged 25-29) held a bachelor's degree — a number that lags far behind other demographic groups. Cost, unfamiliarity with the process, and needing to help support family are just a few barriers that first-generation college students face.

Image via iStock.

Luckily, Palomino's high school in Thornton offered a rigorous academic program that was able to guide her through the college application process. She successfully applied to the University of Colorado at Boulder, received scholarships, and started school in 2014.

Now a junior in college, Palomino's determined to give other first-generation college students the same opportunities she had.

One of the scholarships Palomino received, the Puksta Scholarship, requires students to design a civic engagement project. She writes, "I knew that I wanted to work with the undocumented community; I wanted to give back to my family, especially after everything they have done for me."

After reflecting on her own experience applying to college, she decided that simply providing workshops for parents of high school students could make a huge impact in the community. So far, she has facilitated four parent workshops.

"I want parents to know that it is possible [for their kids to attend college]," Palomino writes. "It may be challenging, but it's worth it."

Image via iStock.

The workshops address some common college myths (such as the grades required for acceptance), the differences between community colleges and universities, the common application questions, financial aid, and more.

Palomino likes to end the presentation by asking what parents dream for their kids' futures. She says the stories they share make her "realize how amazing and dedicated they are. They are so invested in their student's future and only want the best for them." The parents, she adds, are always extremely grateful.

Being a first-generation college student is anything but easy. But Palomino is fully committed to helping other students achieve their college dreams. "I truly believe that no matter what your legal status is, everyone should have the right and opportunity to go to college," she explains. "It is possible, si se puede."

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Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

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