How is This First-Gen College Student Finding Success?

She’s part of UMKC Professional Career Escalators in the business track
Ariela Lara riding mechanical bull at Late Night with the Greeks freshmen welcome event

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Ariela Lara
Anticipated graduation year: 2026
UMKC degree program: engineering and business track, Professional Career Escalators
Hometown: Ozark, Missouri

Ariela Lara, a first-generation college student emerging from the foster-care system, arrived on campus with no idea what to expect, or what was expected of her.

That changed quickly though, thanks to her participation in the Professional Career Escalators program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. It’s a comprehensive career-development program designed to propel students from their academic studies to high-paying careers by providing a dedicated, GPS-guided path from enrollment to career success.

“Here at UMKC, they really care about you being able to succeed,” Lara said. “There are so many resources to help you. I really benefit from having a mentor to help me not only navigate college, but help me understand how I can be successful in my career. And the program really helps you make connections.”

The Professional Career Escalators program provides students with a unique, trademarked system of personalized support and services, preparing students for careers in four key areas of workforce demand: law and justice, engineering and business, education and health care.  

Each semester, students participate in the five Professional Career Escalators core experiences: career guidance and development; experiential learning opportunities (such as job shadowing and internships); mentoring with faculty experts and community professionals; graduate and professional school preparation; and leadership development.

The program is helping Lara narrow her focus.

“Business is such a broad field, and it can be hard to narrow down to what you really want to do,” she said. “I wanted to go into a program that would let me be creative, but I didn’t want to go into the arts. In high school I took a business class, and I joined DECA (formerly Distributive Education Clubs of America). I realized that I was good at it, and I loved it. And as I started to learn more about business, I fell in love with marketing.”

How has your college program inspired you?

Seeing so many people working so hard to be successful really motivates and inspires me to want to be that way and do that.

Since entering college, what have you learned about yourself?

That I am more ambitious than I thought. All I can think about is how much I want to succeed, and that I will do anything I have to.

What are your feelings about being a first-generation college student?

It is something I am immensely proud of. I am the first in my family to explore this realm. They never had this opportunity.

Do you have any scholarships?

Coming from the foster-care system, I am paying for all my college costs. I have been fortunate to be able to receive many scholarships for this year and they mean a lot to me. I worked really hard in high school to be able to receive scholarships.

What other extracurricular activities are you involved in at UMKC?

I am in First Gen Roo, Bloch Ambassadors, Bloch Launchpad and Enactus.


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