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I am First

By Natalie Noyes

About a third of Cal Poly Pomona students are the first in their families to attend college. While they come with unique perspectives, challenges and experiences, they’re also more likely to drop out of college.

The campus’ “I am First” campaign shares the voices of individuals who are the first in their families to pursue a college degree. The stories of their journeys, including the struggles and successes, are reminders that their goals are within reach and that there is not one set path to success.

Everado Barraza, Peer Mentor Instructor

Everado Barraza

I wanted to be part of the solution

Everado Barraza grew up with only one parent and lived with extended family members under one roof. His father was imprisoned for most of his childhood, and college wasn’t a priority for his mother, who needed him to work more than she needed him to get an education. 

After rebelling during his teen years, Barraza realized that the only way to truly help his family was to take his studies seriously. He sought out tutoring from other classmates to pass high school and relied on student loans and a part-time job to make it through community college. The fear of college loans strained his relationship with mother while he attended UC Santa Cruz. 

After graduating, he worked as a criminal investigator for the U.S. Department of Commerce. He found the work rewarding but emotionally draining, and he felt a tug to return to school to earn his master’s degree in public administration. 

Barraza decided he wanted to help students accomplish their goals and shifted his career to the education field.

“I wanted to be part of the solution rather than being on the other end, where I assisted in incarcerating criminals,” he says.

As the coordinator for the Achieve Scholars program and a peer mentor instructor at Cal Poly Pomona, Barraza assists students in undergraduate research and also shares his journey with those who need encouragement. He hopes that his perseverance can inspire others who are experiencing similar challenges to not give up on their dreams. 

 Laura Ayon, Director of  the Reading, Advising & Mentoring Program 

Laura Ayon

A model of drive and perseverance

The youngest of 16 children, Laura Ayon was born in Bellflower. Her grandfather was part of the Bracero Program, and her father worked and lived in both Mexico and the United States before permanently moving Laura’s mother and three eldest siblings to the United States.

Her parents valued education and rewarded their children for making good grades, but Ayon didn’t have direct exposure to higher education. Not all of her siblings went to college.

“The only books we had at our home was a set of encyclopedias,” she says.

Ayon’s older sister was part of the Harvey Mudd Upward Bound program, which provided college preparation during high school, and went to Pomona College. Ayon followed in her sister’s footsteps. 

Still, she encountered personal obstacles and doubted her abilities. “‘I just need to get past that first semester.’ I was looking at it semester by semester, survival. I knew I was going in ill-prepared but I didn’t know how to fix that,” Ayon says. “My time management was horrible, but the relationships with the professors helped.”

She experienced an additional layer of isolation when her oldest daughter was born while she was a student.

Nonetheless, her experience at Pomona College, a small liberal arts campus, provided her support from her professors, and she persevered and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. 

It wasn’t long before Ayon returned to a college campus. Ayon joined RAMP (Reading, Advising & Mentoring Program) at Cal Poly Pomona as an advisor. With the support of her supervisor at the time, Carol Comfort, and the mentorship and guidance of Kathleen Massey, professor emeritus of English and foreign languages, Ayon enrolled in the graduate program at Cal Poly Pomona and earned her master’s degree in English four years later.

“What I took out of grad school was very different from my undergraduate experience. My undergraduate experience was about survival, get the classes I need, get a decent grade, on to the next one. I try to impart to students to see the whole experience versus the degree itself,” she says. 

As director of RAMP, Ayon models the positive outcomes of drive and perseverance. She is passionate about guiding students, and her own three children, to be better prepared to succeed in college. 

Daynie Rivera, Communication senior

Daynie Rivera

I'm grateful for the opportunities

Daynie Rivera was born in Managua, Nicaragua and immigrated to the United States when she was 6. Her parents went to college in their home country and shared the importance of higher education, but they lacked the knowledge of the U.S. educational system.

Rivera doesn’t shy away from a challenge. After graduating from high school, she joined the workforce and worked a 9-to-5 job. Rivera also attended beauty school, did pageantry and modeling. 

After working for four years, Rivera realized that without a college degree, her career options were extremely limited.

Because many of her friends attended Mt. SAC, she researched the school to see if it would be a good fit for her. It wasn’t expensive and it was close to home. A couple of years later, she earned her associate degrees in communication and journalism before transferring to Cal Poly Pomona. 

 At Cal Poly Pomona, Rivera discovered a culture where people supported one another, and she worked hard to earn good grades.

“I see myself here today and I love this school, I love the diversity, I love that we are hands on,” the communication senior says. “You really, really work, and I like that because when you go into the real world, you’ll actually be ready for what you have to do.” 

Rivera works as an office assistant for the Graduate Studies Office, writes for Spektrum Magazine, and is the arts and enter-tainment editor for The Poly Post.

“My journey was long, and I never thought that I would make it to Cal Poly Pomona. But I did, and I’m here, and I’m almost graduating,” she says. “I’m grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had on campus, and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.”