Laura Sánchez-Parkinson is a reserved and joyful person with a delicate façade that conceals the soul of an independent risk taker.
Her academic achievements—a baccalaureate in organizational studies and an MA in Higher Education Management and Organizations—have required an immense amount of hard work and determination for this young Latina.
Laura took the risk of preparing for college without knowing if she would ever get there. Her parents had limited knowledge about college, she recalls, “They didn’t understand much, but I didn’t resent them for it because I knew they did their best based on what they did know.”
Her school didn’t provide much academic guidance to minority students, so she took it upon herself to secure the resources needed to become college-ready without encumbering her family’s thin financial resources.
Her hard work paid off when she was accepted at U-M with a generous scholarship. “I wouldn’t have been able to get through that process without the guidance and support of a few teachers and my friends,” Laura said. “Oh yeah, and Google was my friend.”
“I can’t separate my Mexican ethnicity or my working-class identity from my first-gen experience,” she said. “They all intertwine.” Laura excitedly prepared to go to Ann Arbor, anxious to experience the world of opportunity that college is said to offer. Once she arrived at U-M, however, she noticed that all the possibilities were not necessarily accessible to everyone, including her.
“I realized four-year universities weren’t structured for people like me,” Laura says.
She refused to let her differences drive her away from the college path she had worked so hard to get on. “People came to college to have fun, but I came to better myself and my family,” she said.
Once here, Laura found that the lack of preparation available at her high school had erected academic barriers for her. “As soon as I knew I was struggling, I asked for help. I was on a four-year scholarship, so there wasn’t much room for error,” she says.
Through involvement in programs such as Intergroup Dialogue and the First-Generation College Students @ U-M, Laura created support systems that provided a sense of belonging within the university.
Grateful for her enriched experience, Laura expresses the belief that she was lucky to be “in the right place, at the right time.” She remains aware of those underrepresented minority first gens who miss out on the opportunities she enjoyed, due to limited access to resources.
Her undergraduate experience sparked her inner activist, motivating her to follow a career in which she will take yet another risk. This time around, she intends to help ensure that future underrepresented first-gen students do, in fact, find the welcoming campus climate she had anticipated at U-M, an academic community where they will be able to achieve a degree as well as awareness of the full world of opportunities that will enrich their entire lives.