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First-Generation College Student Navigates College By Learning About Her Heritage  

Mentor in the UMKC Avanzando program assists in journey
Through Avanzando, Aricela Guadalupe was connected with Clara Irazábal-Zurita, director of the Latinx and Latin American Studies Program and a professor in the Department of Architecture, Urban Planning + Design.

The heart of UMKC is our campus community. With lots of opportunities, it’s easy to develop student mentorship teams. And these rich relationships—our Dynamic Duos—are some of our best success stories.

When Aricela Guadalupe first arrived at UMKC, she spent a lot of time thinking about her parents - would she make them proud? Would she have what it takes to succeed in college?

As a first-generation college student, she was eager to take advantage of the opportunity she’d been given. But the path to graduation seemed uncertain.

Aricela Guadalupe talks to her mentor

“It was honestly scary, because you don’t know what to expect,” she says. “You doubt yourself. ‘Am I going to be able to do it? Am I doing this right?’ You don’t want to mess up.”

Guadalupe’s parents immigrated to the United States from a small Mexican village. Growing up, their main concern had been getting food on the table, not filling out college applications or studying for exams. They came to the U.S. so their children would have opportunities they’d never been able to aspire to.

Now, Guadalupe was living the dream her parents always wanted for her, but the transition to college was intimidating. Thankfully, she had an important resource to turn to: She was a member of the Avanzando program, which offers academic support and mentoring to Latinx students.

“It’s such a joy. It’s such a rewarding experience. And it’s a way of paying back all the opportunities I have had in life. If I hadn’t had mentors, I wouldn’t have come as far as I have.” - Clara Irazábal-Zurita

A portrait of Clara Irazabal-Zurita

Through Avanzando, Guadalupe was connected with Clara Irazábal-Zurita, director of the Latinx and Latin American Studies Program and a professor in the Department of Architecture, Urban Planning + Design. Irazábal-Zurita quickly became a trusted friend and advisor, never more than a few buildings away on campus. 

When asked how a mentor can help a student, especially a first-generation student like Guadalupe, Irazábal-Zurita’s answer is simple: They can help “with everything.”

“We’re here to be friends, to be companions in their journey of education, of growing up in general and maturing as people,” she says. “It is important that students have an opportunity to chat with others who can guide them through the experience, and sometimes even vent with the frustrations that come naturally with that process of growth.”

Aricela Guadalupe talks to her mentor on the UMKC Volker Campus.

For Guadalupe, knowing she has a friend and advisor just a call, text or email away has made the college experience a lot less scary.

“I just know she’s there, that I have someone to go to to ask for guidance and advice,” she says. “I know I have someone to talk to.”

Guadalupe, a business administration major with an emphasis in management, says her goals for the future are to graduate from college and begin a career she likes, whatever that may be. She is also learning more about her history and culture as a Latinx and Latin American Studies minor.

She dreams of owning a business of her own someday, but for now, she’s happy with what she’s pursuing at UMKC: studying, networking and meeting new people in groups like Avanzando and the Latinx Student Union.

“I just know she’s there, that I have someone to go to to ask for guidance and advice. I know I have someone to talk to.” - Aricela Guadalupe

A portrait of Aricela Guadalupe

Her advice for future students? Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there or ask for help.

“Don’t be scared. Just talk to people,” she says. “Because everyone is going through the same thing. You never know, maybe they’re scared to make friends, too.”

Irazábal-Zurita also has a message, but for the parents and families of new college students.

Aricela Guadalupe hugs her mentor.

“Instead of advice, I would want to congratulate families in general, and Latino families in particular, because they invest a lot in supporting their children to come to college and to do well in college,” she says. “Keep doing what you’re doing and realize that this is an investment for the long term.”

Mentoring students like Guadalupe, she says, is just as beneficial for her as it is for the students.

“It’s such a joy. It’s such a rewarding experience,” she says. “And it’s a way of paying back all the opportunities I have had in life. If I hadn’t had mentors, I wouldn’t have come as far as I have. I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s very important for me to help out - to be that building stone for others who come behind me.”

Learn more about the Latinx and Latin American Studies Program