Dalton State celebrates first-generation college students

Alvaro Cortez, a biology major at Dalton State College, places a first-generation college student button on.

For Alvaro Cortez, and many other students at Dalton State College, attending college means he’ll have opportunities his parents didn’t.

“My parents immigrated here from Mexico to give my siblings and me a better life,” said Cortez, a biology major with aspirations to go to medical school. “I do not let struggles define me. I push forward and take advantage of the opportunities offered to me knowing my parents didn’t have those same opportunities.”

Roadrunner nation celebrated First-Generation College Student Day recently. More than 50 percent of students at Dalton State are first-generation, while about a fourth of the faculty and staff are first-generation college graduates.

Dalton State gives Cortez the freedom to pursue his dream close to home where he can still be supported by his family.

“I chose Dalton State because it was close to home, family and friends,” he said. “I am excited for the future and plan to become the first doctor in my family. Dalton State has given me what I need to be competitive in medical school.”

Maricela Martinez, a biology major who will graduate in the spring of 2020, immigrated to the U.S. with her parents when she was young.

“I was clueless about applications and financial aid when I first applied to Dalton State,” Martinez said. “I applied just before the deadline and learned so much about the process in a short amount of time. I did it on my own — with the emotional support of my parents. Then I was able to help my sister when she decided she wanted to continue her education.”

Martinez said the more she got involved on campus, the more possibilities she discovered. She said she spoke with alumni and discovered the Dalton State Foundation Scholarships. Currently enrolled students can apply for scholarships from the foundation thanks to the generosity of those who give to scholarship funds.

“When I hear someone say ‘Oh, I don’t know if I am going to college, I can’t pay for it,’ my first question is 'Have you applied yet?'” Martinez said. “The scholarships are funded in part by gifts given by alumni who are proud to be a part of Dalton State and want to give to students. Students need to be aware and take advantage of it.”

“Dalton State has offered me great opportunities,” said Rosio Martinez, a physics major graduating in the spring of 2021. “I have always struggled with learning disabilities but the professors, resources, anything I need are here for me and students like me. I am proud to be a Roadrunner.”

Cynthia Castillo, a freshman who expects to graduate in the spring of 2023, said she chose Dalton State because of the knowledge and skills offered by the School of Education. Castillo said she was excited to be involved in the personal experiences the program provides.

“As an early childhood education student in such a tight-knit community, I get to have more hands-on experiences in local schools,” she said. “I think it is great to have a wealth of those opportunities available. Being a first-generation student means taking initiative to get your education and move forward in life. Being a Roadrunner means to be myself boldly, not be pressured to be anybody but myself, and to continue growing as a person.”

Cortez said he was encouraged by his cohorts and professors.

“To be a part of Roadrunner Nation means to be a part of this grand community,” he said. “Students come here from all over the country. Though we are all different, when we are here, we’re one big family.”

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