Gabriela Raisl

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First-generation students, who don't have a family history of higher education, are a group that make UW Tacoma a very special place. Read their stories as they tell, in their own words, about the challenges they overcame on their path to success.

Gabriela Raisl, UW Tacoma psychology major and first-generation studentThe first college campus I visited was Brooklyn College when I was about 4 years old. The memory is still clear in my mind because it had a huge impact on what I saw as possible for my future. Watching my parents struggle to find a balance between raising a family and fulfilling their dreams of college provided me with the motivation I needed to get to where I am today—for me and for them.

On September 11, 2001, I went to school like any other day. I had no idea that my world would be changed forever. One month after the horrible attacks in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania my parents packed our car and we drove to Miami. We never looked back. Leaving my home and everything I knew was extremely hard. I felt lost and disconnected from my peers. At the end of my senior year of high school, not having taken SATs or having any idea how to navigate all the things I would need to attend a university, I decided to go to Miami Dade College. Attending Miami Dade took me back to that first visit to Brooklyn College and restored the idea that my dream of obtaining a college degree was possible.

About a year into attending Miami Dade my parents got divorced. The separation made it even harder to attend school. I had to miss several quarters at a time because we couldn’t afford tuition and I had no idea how to navigate getting financial aid. Since my mom worked a lot I took over helping with my younger brother. I never wanted him to feel that our family was falling apart. I attended every field trip and dance and was by far the youngest member of the PTA at his middle school. My brother is now 19 years-old and entering into his junior year at Florida State University. I still vividly remember when he received a full-ride scholarship. I couldn’t have been prouder.

I am now 26 years-old and about to graduate with a B.A. in psychology and a minor in nonprofit management. My family and my wonderful husband have been the greatest support through this long journey. My husband’s support and faith in me, even when I felt lost, has been has been instrumental to me being able to finally walk across that stage in June. 

As first-generation students, we represent what can be attained when you decide to write your own story. My advice for other first-generation students would be that there are an infinite number of paths that can be taken to reach a goal and to accomplish your dreams. We are paving the road for those who come after us but we’re also leaving them with the tools they need to build their own roads to success.

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May 10, 2017