‘Kind of scared, but still excited’: The journey of first generation college students

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Brooke DeReu is an ordinary high school student in many respects — she giggles with friends between classes, prepares for upcoming ACT tests and aspires to be a firefighter or a nurse.

However, the Washington High School junior stands apart from many of her peers as she will be the first member of her family to attend college.

“I’m kind of scared, but still excited,” DeReu said. “My sister was actually planning on it, but she couldn’t follow through with it. She didn’t go to college, so I want to be the first person in my family to actually go.” DeReu plans to attend SDSU.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 30 percent of American college students are first generation. They also have alarmingly low success rates — only 11 percent of first generation college students graduate with bachelor’s degrees.

“They’re just at a disadvantage,” said Samantha Contarino, director of the Upward Bound program at SDSU. “A lot of them are coming in not having the tools they need to succeed and go forward with their lives and that’s why we’re here.”

Upward Bound is just one of the programs offered by TRIO, a set of federally funded programs designed to help young students succeed academically and financially.

The Upward Bound program is designed to help high school students prepare for college life. Contarino spends a majority of her time traveling between four different schools in the area and mentoring students in the program.

One of the students Contarino mentors is DeReu. She said DeReu has “really come into her own” since she began mentoring her three years ago.

“She’s shy, but she’s really bright and she’s funny and she has a good soul,” Contarino said. “I want to see her succeed.”

DeReu became involved with Upward Bound in eighth grade. Through it, she has attended multiple Saturday programs that have helped her prepare for college, from practicing for ACT testing to career searching. She has even spent time visiting SDSU’s campus.

“Before I joined Upward Bound I never really thought about college and it never crossed my mind,” DeReu said. “But after I did, it changed my views and I would tell anyone to join it.”

In one afternoon mentoring session, DeReu and Contarino discussed scholarship opportunities, reviewing those she could qualify for.

“They do things to prepare you for what you’re going to go into,” DeReu said. “I feel more prepared. My experience will be better.”

Currently, 63 students are being aided by the Upward Bound program through the TRIO office on SDSU’s campus. Almost half those students come from Washington High School.

The most important thing DeReu said she’s taken from the program is “the experience to be able to pass my classes.”

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