Gabriela Paniagua is from the Southside of Chicago and was blessed with the opportunity to attend a high school that provided one-on-one help with college applications, college search, and the FAFSA. Gabriela’s first encounter with her first-generation identity began at the University of Michigan. As a daughter of immigrant parents, Gabriela was forced to apply to colleges and make the decisions of where to go all on her own.
Gaby was fortunate enough to be able to attend the University of Michigan which was not common around her neighborhood. Growing up in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood it was no surprise that being first generation was not a label Gaby associated with herself.
Arriving at the University through the Summer Bridge program Gabriela was equipped with unique skills to maneuver campus and be successful, but even so the fall of her freshman year it became very clear that she was struggling more than other students. Small things like who the right person to talk to about financial aid, how to study, how to take notes were new for Gabriela.
Most students at Michigan came from families whose parents had attended college before. Gaby stepped into Michigan with no knowledge of what it would be like and no one to ask questions to back home. That is when she realized what a first-generation student was like.
It was different to realize that other students did not have to struggle as hard as first-generation students but as a Latina, it was easier for Gaby to see that certain people had advantages and disadvantages. I took my disadvantages and made sure her academic success was not affected. It has been difficult being a first-generation student at the University of Michigan, but it has also allowed Gaby to have a platform to help other students with the same identity struggle less than she had to.
As a first-generation student, Gaby has paved the way for her younger siblings. As the new President of the First Generation student organization at Michigan Gaby hopes to normalize being a first-generation student at Michigan. She wants students to know of the resources available and expand them to make them widely accessible to all students so they do not feel like outsiders. Being a first-generation student is unique and students can be successful despite challenges.