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Sometimes, hard to be first

BY EMILY BUSSE | OCTOBER 14, 2009 7:30 AM

David Scrivner/The Daily Iowan
UI senior Lizeth Garcia studies in her apartment on Oct. 8. Garcia is working toward applying to the UI medical school. She and her siblings are the first generation in their family to attend college.
David Scrivner/The Daily Iowan
UI junior Jackie Herzberg explains her marathon-running awards in her apartment on Oct. 13. Herzberg, who enjoys running in her free time, has three sisters who also attend college.
David Scrivner/The Daily Iowan
UI freshman Megan Logan strums her tenor ukulele outside Capanna Coffee on Oct. 6. Both of Logan’s parents went to college but did not complete their degrees.
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Roughly 20 years ago in Tepatitlan, Mexico, Moises and Martha Garcia wanted a better life for their children. So they moved to the United States, settling in Iowa and hoping their kids would have an opportunity they didn’t: to go to college.

Lizeth Garcia, a senior working to be accepted by the UI Carver College of Medicine, said her parents’ perseverance paid off. Garcia is a first-generation student, part of the minority of college students who are the first in their family to earn college degrees.

A new UI group, created by first-generation upperclassmen, called First Generation Iowa, aims to provide a social and academic resource for fellow first-generation students. The group’s second meeting of the year will be Thursday in the IMU.

“My freshman year, I felt very disconnected from everything,” Garcia said. “I didn’t know how to connect with anybody and I didn’t know all the special resources that would help you so much when you’re a first year. That’s why [First Generation Iowa] will be such a great thing.”

‘Opportunity to be something more’

When Garcia’s parents moved the family to Iowa, she said, she was able to easily fit in as an 8-year-old.

Growing up, Garcia said her parents vowed to do “anything they could to get you guys to college,” which included taking on a slew of jobs and moving out of Richmond, Calif., when drug use and crime increased.

But she couldn’t identify with some of her friends in suburban Marshalltown, Iowa, because her parents hadn’t gone to college.

“[People would] say, ‘Oh my God, what do they do?’ ” Garcia said. “People’s parents had prestigious jobs, and I didn’t think it was a strange thing until people really started bringing it up.”

Her first two weeks as a first-generation UI student were not easy.

“I just relied on my friends here,” she said. “All their parents had gone to college, and they pretty much knew all the ins and outs so I basically clung to them.”

As Garcia nears the end of her college career, her youngest sibling is poised to enroll next year, marking the end of a two-decade-long journey for her parents.

“It’s very rewarding for them to know that they can send us here so we can have the opportunity to be something more,” Garcia said.



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Paying her own way

Jackie Herzberg always had a passion for school.

At her tiny high school in Villisca, Iowa, she was the valedictorian and prom queen, a dancer, runner, and student body president.

But, like Garcia something set Herzberg apart from other UI students when she enrolled: Neither of her parents have a college degree.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Herzberg said. “What I knew about college was from movies.”

Her father worked as a farmer and didn’t need a degree. Her mother, who had three of four kids by 19, completed a year and a half of college before becoming a secretary.

Herzberg worked, planned, and saved for college on her own for years.

“My parents weren’t for or against going to college,” she said. “I made the decision to go. I made the decision to apply for all my scholarships. I paid for all my college. They’re supportive because this is the choice I’ve made, but they had nothing to do with the choice.”

Beginning as a 7-year-old, Herzberg bought, raised, bred, sold, and showed pigs at fairs, toiling in the “hot Iowa afternoons” to pull in part of her funding for school.

Finally at college, Herzberg said, she was surprised by other students’ attitudes toward education.

“My initial expectation for college was that everyone was going to be excited and passionate about it, and that was not the case at all,” she said. “My passion for college and what I’m studying comes from me. I never had anyone else pushing me to do what I chose.”

Looking for answers

As a first-generation, first-year student, Megan Logan had to find ways to combat the added stress that comes with a lack of parental guidance on certain aspects of university life.

So she’ll play the piano in the lounge, or pull out her ukulele, her melodica, her guitar, or any of the other 12 instruments she plays.

“It’s a form of escapism,” she said. “Just like watching a movie or listening to music.”

Though her mother dropped out of community college in California — she skipped classes to go surfing — and her father left the University of South Dakota after his father died, both her parents hold steady jobs and always expected her to go to college.

“I would ask [my parents] questions and they would be like, ‘I have no idea. You probably know better than I do,’ ” Logan said.

Halfway through her first semester, Logan has had to find substitutes for parental answers — like how to buy books — from friends, friends’ parents, or other relatives.

“I really don’t ask questions except from my close friends,” she said. “I might be sitting right next to somebody who knows the answer, but I’ll text someone on my floor to see if she knows.”


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