Own it July 2016

Written by
Marvin F. Lozano, Ed.D. & Miquela Rivera, Ph.D

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not…genius will not…education will not…Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
— Calvin Coolidge

Success does not require unique abilities, lots of money or an Ivy League education.  It requires having an entrepreneurial mindset focused on problem-solving.  It also requires hard work.  Most important, it requires persistence and determination.  First-generation college-bound Latino students sometimes think they need unique talent, a lot of money or attending a highly prestigious university to succeed.  No one tells them differently, so some do not even try to pursue higher education.  Many may overlook state colleges and universities in closer proximity with rigorous curricula and are well-suited to their abilities, resources and goals. 

Lack of information about options and opportunities can impede a Latino student’s persistence. Career counselors and faculty are crucial in encouraging students to pursue higher education. Students need to be told that those opportunities are available to them – if they choose to pursue them.  

Entrepreneurs approach their work with passion and are inner-directed. They surround themselves with people that share their interests. First-generation college-bound Latino students sometimes set aside their personal passion or interests to work and support the family. Encouraging a Latino student to identify and pursue their passion is crucial for in that passion lies a lifelong pursuit that can support the family, often at a higher level. Pursuing a passion is different than having a job – and they deserve to know the difference and choose accordingly.

First-generation college-bound Latino students also need support in setting their expectations. Higher education will require more work and present more challenges than they have experienced before, but those challenges are simply problems to be solved. With the entrepreneurial mindset, students learn to persevere in the face of difficulty, viewing and solving one problem after another.  With faculty guidance they can learn the system and use the resources available to overcome challenges. Such support prevents Latino students from giving up too easily rather than identifying problems and finding solutions.  Or not trying at all. 

Preparation for higher education is also crucial. Study skills should be taught beginning in elementary school.  Self-discipline must begin at home in early childhood and be encouraged by structure and adults who are engaged with students at every level of schooling. The entrepreneurial mindset of problem-solving can be taught as children grow older; the required determination and perseverance are cultivated much earlier.

Social adjustments are another factor that can affect a Latino student’s persistence in higher education. Geographic distance and lessened time with family can cut both ways for the Latino student entering college. Being away from or spending less time with family may cause a sense of grief and loss for the student, but it can strip away some negative pressures that might weigh heavily on the student, too.  Feeling alone or different than many of the other students on campus adds to a Latino student’s sense of isolation.  Coupled with changes in food, activities, traditions, recreation, music and other familiar things, Latino students can reach the tipping point of choosing to quit rather than persevere.  As a first-generation college-bound Latino student, author Marvin Lozano recalls having a college roommate – also first-generation – at Arizona State University years ago.  They were two of three Latino students in the entire dormitory. Changes in food, hearing Spanish less and having no Latino professors with whom to identify were significant issues – beyond life away from home and increased academic demands – that required major social adjustments.  Building a “campus family” with Latinos they met on campus between classes in the student union provided weekend gatherings with food, celebration, music and socializing that lessened the personal losses and supported their retention in school.  Through mutual support they learned to balance study and work (all of them had part-time jobs in addition to carrying a course load).  At the end of the first term, money issues led the roommate to join the Army and return to complete college several years later under the GI Bill.  Marvin completed the business degree with honors.  Both persevered, clear on their passion and goals.

First-generation college-bound Latino students know how to persist because life has already demanded that they do so.  With encouragement, structure, information and support, they can transfer their ability to persist – all the way to a college degree. •