Latino Voices

First-Generation Students Reflect on Experiences as Rising Number of Latinos Pursuing Post-Graduate Degrees


First-Generation Students Reflect on Experiences as Rising Number of Latinos Pursuing Post-Graduate Degrees

While the number of Latinos enrolling in post-graduate degree programs has increased 81% since 2010, that group still only makes up 8% of all post-grad students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Joaquin Guzman graduated with a master’s degree in public health from Loyola University. He said navigating college where there were fewer Latinos made him realize how different the communities can be.

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“It was a culture shift completely,” he said. “I remember going to school and just having to change the way that I thought, you know, the way that I spoke, it was just something like an adaptation and it was hard. I remember coming home and just feeling a different vibe from when I was at school.”

But he said it gradually became easier to make connections with friends, professors or advisors who could help support his journey.

For Dr. Gabriela Fuentes, having the support of other Latinos made an impact on her journey through medical school. She received her doctor of medicine and master’s in public health from Loyola University this year and is set to begin an emergency medicine residency.

“It just showed me other doctors who were Latin that I had never met before, they showed me that I could do it,” she said. “There was someone that looked like me, that achieved it. They came from a similar background as me, so why not me?”

Many Latinos pursuing advanced degrees are also first-generation students.

Lupe Jimemez received a master’s degree in sports psychology from the University of Illinois Chicago. She, along with Fuentes and Guzman, said they didn’t always have family members who knew how to help them navigate the process.

But in the end, having the support of their families motivated them to keep going.

“I see how many generations before me fought for me to have this moment.” Jimemez said. “So every time that I was walking offstage I was like, this is not my day, this is their day, because they’re here with me. And just having them be my motivator has definitely made a huge impact.”


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