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First-Gen Feats: 'I’ve learned a lot about myself as a student'

Victor Sandoval is a Denver Scholarship Foundation scholar who is motivated by family to earn a degree

DENVER — The Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF) has been turning college dreams into reality for thousands of Denver Public Schools (DPS) students for the past 14 years.  

The group serves about 7,500 students through Future Centers which serve 22 DPS high schools. The goal is to provide tools, knowledge and financial resources necessary for education after high school to DSF scholars like Victor Sandoval.  He’s a freshman at the University of Colorado Denver trying to navigate hurdles his first year of college and working part-time. 

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“I’ve learned a lot about myself as a student,” Sandoval said.  “I feel like it’s gotten easier outside of school which has allowed me to control my stress and be more productive as a student in class.”

Sandoval is a first-generation college student who graduated last year from North High School where he was the senior class president.  Now, he’s a freshman at the Denver campus and recently changed his major from public service to communications. 

He said he’s taking 15 hours of classes remotely, working 20 hours a week as a barista and helping his girlfriend babysit.  Sandoval said his biggest battle was time management his first semester but was dedicated to getting his degree. It was a journey that was partly motivated by his older brother, Eric.

Credit: Victor Sandoval

“My older brother has a degree in communications and he’s a digital marketer,” he said. “It’s cool to hear about his experiences because my whole life, I feel like I’ve lived off of my other brother’s experiences.” 

Sandoval is the youngest of four brothers, and with the goal of giving back to his community, he wants to provide a resource in schools for single parents that show them what is accessible to them and the resources they might not know about through the change in his major.

“For me, learning more about nonprofit and thinking more about how I can give back to my community,” he said.  “(And) I think communications will help me.”

Credit: Byron Reed

“Working through their journey of high school graduation into the first year of college as a freshman really provided some unique opportunity for conversation,” said Denver Scholarship Foundation CEO Lorii Rabinowitz. 

Rabinowitz said 88% of the current DSF scholar group are first-generation college students and part of that conversation is what the experience may look like as a part of their college selection.

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“We partner with 31 institutions of higher ed programs across the state so that we can not only have a dedicated resource on campus for students to meet with on a regular basis, but we can continue to work together to gauge that progress,” Rabinowitz said.

Credit: Byron Reed

Sandoval said he wanted to stay closer to home so he can continue to help his family. He said he realized what it meant to get a job and support himself financially, it’s another challenge some first-generation students face going into college.

“Some of our students are not only taking courses, working part-time, but also may be responsible for the care of their siblings at home,” said Rigo Rangel, student services manager for the Latin American Educational Foundation (LAEF). 

LAEF focuses on providing Hispanic and Latino students access to higher education.  The nonprofit groups said they’re seeing a 40% increase in tuition rates at Colorado’s universities and colleges in the past five years. Rangel said this is one of the stressful hurdles he’s hearing from some of his first-generation students.

“We are seeing most of our students, them being first-generation mostly from immigrant backgrounds,” Rangel said.  “We see many of our students having to make difficult decisions to be able to either to stay home or find ways to continue to support the household.”

Rabinowitz agrees these are some challenges most first-generation students like Sandoval face going through the DSF program. 

“Many of our scholars work outside of school as well so how am I balancing that, family responsibilities and friends and clubs and other engagements and so the juggling is real, and our scholars are well equipped,” she said.

“Right now, it is mid-term season so I’m in that slump with everyone else,” added Sandoval.  “It kind of just feels like (we’re) getting through to the last push.”

Credit: Victor Sandoval

Sandoval said it’s that push he’s getting from people like his older brother that’s helping him pull through his first year of college.

“I’ve gotten a lot better about handling it, I wouldn’t say things have gotten easier for me,” he said.  “I’d say that things are still getting more hectic as life goes on and I continue to mature and grow up.”

>> The Denver Scholarship Foundation has invited 9NEWS to follow Victor in his second semester of college to give some insight into what some first-generation students face. We will be checking in with his progress once a month. 

 

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