Move In 2018: First-gen student Ivan Medina is ready to make his mark at CSU

Ivan Medina

Ivan Medina may be a freshman on paper, but he’s got more experience at Colorado State University than the average incoming student.

This summer Medina, from Greeley, took part in the Bridge Scholars Program, which provides an on-campus experience for students, primarily those who are first-generation and come from underrepresented backgrounds. And even that wasn’t his first time on campus: He had already spent two summers at CSU through Upward Bound, which allowed him to shadow researchers in labs, learn about clubs and find out what jobs are available on campus.

Through the Bridge Scholars Program, Medina lived in a residence hall for eight weeks, took classes and made connections with groups like El Centro, the on-campus cultural center for the Latinx community. (Latinx is a gender-neutral alternative for Latino or Latina.)

He learned about student life, including skills like how to create a budget, as well as about activities on campus and in the community. “The program helped us learn about all the necessary things for first-generation students,” he said.

As part of the program, Medina talked with peers about their identities, and how each of them views themselves, compared with others in the community.

“I’m pretty privileged as a first-gen student,” he said. “I know English pretty well, and religion doesn’t really play a factor for me. I’m a male, too.”

Education for a better life

Medina’s father was born in the small town of El Acebuche in north-central Mexico. He finished high school — a rare feat, according to Ivan — and attempted to take classes at the university.

“He would wake up at five in the morning, milk the cows, take care of all the animals, go to school, come home and work until nightfall,” Medina explained. “His parents just cared that he did the farm work. He worked as much as 12 hours a day and tried to take English classes at night. He always reminded me, ‘That’s why I want you to do well, so you don’t have to live the same life as me.’”

His mother, who is from Greeley, also instilled in him the importance of education. She didn’t complete high school and always told him: Finish school and find something that you love so that you can get paid a lot to do it.

Medina plans to pursue a degree in biochemistry at CSU. He’s always been interested in science and biology, in particular, is one of his strengths. Eventually, he hopes to pursue a doctorate in pharmacology.

“The best way to help people is to make drugs to help cure them,” he said.

Solving real-world problems

Since he was a young child, Medina said he’s had a desire to help others. That’s part of the reason he enrolled in this summer’s Community Sustainability Workshop, a class that aims to get undergraduates more involved in solving real-world problems.

In the course, Medina and a team of students investigated how to help a community in South Sudan in east-central Africa explore options to create a new school. The CSU instructors for the workshop are Paul Hellmund in the School of Global Environmental Sustainability and Kristie Yelenik in the Department of English.

The project, sponsored by Immanuel Community Church Missions, helped Medina learn about a new place in the world.

“The thing that shocked me the most about South Sudan was the culture,” he said. “Growing up Mexican, the man is the breadwinner, while the woman takes care of the family’s needs at home. In the South Sudan culture, the woman does everything, including pursuing an education.”

Hellmund said Medina is “one of those people who is interested in everything and has the talent and works hard enough to do practically anything.”

As the start of school approaches, Medina said he’s looking forward to his independence on campus, taking new classes and possibly joining a fraternity.

“I’ve been here three years now and it’s like home already,” he said. “I love the town, I have a lot of friends here. It is a perfect fit.”

Related: Watch video of CSU Upward Bound students performing with Grammy-winning  band Ozomatli.