Jazmin Arias’ family used one simple word to describe how it feels to see her chasing her dreams at Colorado State University: proud.
“My journey to this campus is filled with family and love,” the junior business administration student said from the stage at the 10th annual Building Bridges dinner, held March 7, honoring first-generation students at CSU’s College of Business .
Arias, who grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, learned English in kindergarten and soon became a translator for her parents dealing with immigration issues. During her speech, she shared how she once saved her cousins from a house fire and what it was like to be only nine and explain to officers what had just happened to her family.
“But I still went to school the next day,” Arias said.
She is now the Chief Marketing Executive for the First Generation Business Association and serves as a mentor to fellow Latinx students entering college for the first time.
Stories like hers were at the heart of the Building Bridges dinner, an annual tradition that organizer and Senior Lead Academic Adviser Alex Diemer says can help show first-generation students that they really are part of a larger community at CSU College of Business are.
“It helps give people this amazing realization: ‘I belong here, this is my campus, this is my college, this is my home and I have good company surrounded by other first-generation students, staff and faculty,'” she said.
In addition to celebrating the students and their families, the dinner also showcases the College of Business’ support system on campus, designed to ensure these students are not only the first to enter college, but also the first to graduate.
Building Bridges also provided an opportunity to network with College of Business faculty members and business leaders, including Joe Villegas, a CSU graduate who was vice president of financial planning and analysis at Food Services of America.
In his keynote speech, he recounted growing up with parents who first worked on the farm and in the fields before embarking on their own successful careers – inspiring him to be the first in his family to pursue higher education.
“I realized that no matter how difficult the challenges I faced, none compared to those of my parents,” Villegas said.
Diemer said a degree is an incredibly powerful tool in general, but especially for the first-gen community.
“It can positively change the careers of those around the students, those who came before them and those who will come after them,” she said. “There’s a ripple effect.”
Everyone in attendance had stories of overcoming obstacles to reach CSU, including Eden Bruner, who is now President of the First Generation Business Association. She came to CSU as a scholastic powerhouse with high expectations, but ended her freshman semester of college with an academic probation as she struggled to adjust to the new routines.
“When I first got here and started my freshman year, I was very, very lost and it was so much different than high school,” she said.
With the help of her CSU support system, she turned things around and is now on track to graduate early — even earning her master’s degree at 21.
Like Arias, Bruner said she couldn’t be where she is without her family — and like Arias’ family, her mother Piper Knoll used the word “proud” when asked what it meant to have her at CSU to see.
“When I see her now, that’s where she’s supposed to be,” Knoll said.