Nohely Gonzalez is not only a first-generation college student but also a first-generation American. Her parents came to the United States from Mexico without knowing the country, the language or the people.
Gonzalez’s father worked at a beef-packing plant in Greeley, while her mother cleaned office buildings. Despite her humble beginnings, Gonzalez was set on the idea of going to college, and her parents constantly supported her in achieving her goals.
“To this day, I am still astounded to see how much I have accomplished in my life,” Gonzalez says. “I do not come from a family with money or a history of higher education — they couldn’t do anything more than encourage me to pursue my dreams.”
One of those dreams was fulfilled when the Upward Bound TRIO Program, a program run by the U.S. Department of Education, worked with Gonzalez during high school to support and encourage her to pursue higher education. Upward Bound helps high school students from low-income families as well as high school students from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree, enter and complete college.
“It gave me a fighting chance as a student of limited resources and allowed me to become a young, educated Hispanic woman,” Gonzalez says. “Their support and encouragement, their dedication to ensure the success of their students, has never left me feeling alone in this fight.”
CSU is the only Colorado higher education institution that serves students through all the TRIO programs, including Upward Bound and the Academic Advancement Center/Student Support Services program that assists students to obtain their bachelor’s degree. The support from TRIO encouraged Gonzalez to apply for the First Generation Award Program, Key Communities, President’s Leadership Program and Alternative Break service trips.
Gonzalez’s favorite memory at CSU is receiving the Jackson Distinguished First Generation Scholar award. “I had to get up and give a speech to everyone, and I have a huge fear of public speaking, so it was really cool to conquer that,” she says.
She also helped charter Colorado’s first chapter of the multicultural Kappa Delta Chi Sorority Inc., in 2013 with a group of women who had similar interests and concerns.
“I felt like there was no organization that I really fit in with,” Gonzalez says. “So I, along with seven other women, decided to bring a new sorority to campus. It was our home away from home.”
While she has held nearly every position in the sorority, Gonzalez currently serves as vice president and oversees all of the sorority’s committees.
Gonzalez has taken full advantage of her time at CSU, exploring different fields of study.
“When I came to CSU I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I had a life sciences interest,” she says. “So when I came here I took a history class that talked about artifacts and evidence of human origins, and I thought it was super-cool.”
While she hasn’t decided if she wants to use her bachelor’s in anthropology to be Dr. Brennan from Bones or travel to Africa and dig for fossils, she is certain that she will be returning to school soon to earn her master’s degree.
“I wanted to go to graduate school, but I’m going to hold off,” she says. “It’s my dream to travel the world. I want to travel first so I don’t get tired of school, and just enjoy life.”