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First-Gen Feats: Student gives insight on challenges faced by first-generation college attendees

Victor Sandoval is a Denver Scholarship Foundation scholar who was inspired by his mom 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 over 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 the tools, knowledge, and financial resources necessary for education after high school to DSF scholars like Victor Sandoval.  

He's in his first year of college at University of Colorado Denver and utilizes the foundation’s resources including advisors on campus. 

I was looking for colleges and I did find CU Denver,” Sandoval said. “The resources at CU Denver were accessible, and I felt were right there in front of my face.”

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“We partner with 31 institutions of higher education 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,” said DSF CEO Lorii Rabinowitz. 

Credit: Byron Reed

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 CU Denver pursuing a Public Service major.  

He’s taking 15 hours of classes remotely, while also working 20 hours a week as a barista and helping his girlfriend babysit. Sandoval said his biggest battle during his first semester was time management, but he was dedicated to earning his degree. 

It was a journey that was motivated by his mom who graduated high school and went to college, but realized school might not have been an option for her at the time.    

“She had her first child when she was really young,” Sandoval said. “The biggest reason public service is there for me is because I grew up with a single mom most of my life.”

Credit: Victor Sandoval

Sandoval, the youngest of four brothers, said he has an idea on how he can give back to his community after graduation. 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.

“My mom didn’t really know about exactly all the resources that we had accessible to her,” Sandoval said.   

Sandoval knew he wanted to stay closer to home so he can continue to help with his family. He said he realized what it meant to get a job and support himself financially. 

That's another challenge some first-generation students face going into college.

RELATED: 'It's really hard to keep myself in that mentality of school:' A look at some of the challenges first-generation students face

RELATED: Denver Public Schools' 'Future Centers' help students go to college

“Some of our students are not only taking courses [and] 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. Rangel said these are among the hurdles he’s seeing some first-generation students face.

“We’re having to help students navigate that relationship and their living situations so they could continue to do their work, continue to participate in classes, be successful but at the same time," Rangel said.

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

“Working through their journey of high school graduation into the first year of college as a freshman really provided some unique opportunity for conversation,” Rabinowitz said.  “Because 88% of our current scholar group are first generation college students, a big part of that conversation is what the experience may look like, feel like, be like as a part of the selection of that college.”

Credit: Victor Sandoval

Victor says he’s committed to getting a degree and following a path inspired by his mom.

“She’s still my mother, she’s still growing as a human so it’s important that were both growing as humans now,” Sandoval said. “It feels good as an adult to finally grow alongside of my mom.”

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

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