My guest today is Rocio Herrera. Rocio grew up in Southern California to immigrant parents who worked in their respective jobs for over thirty years. Rocio didn’t have a clear idea of what she wanted to pursue as a career but early feedback from peers and extracurricular experiences pointed her toward education. She started her college journey at Cal-State Los Angeles and received a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Learning. For Rocio, college was an opportunity to learn more about her strengths and weaknesses and work on developing strategies that were going to help her succeed. After teaching for three years, she became more aware of the socio-emotional factors impacting her students and the importance of building community. She decided to pursue a Master of Science in School Based Family Counseling at Cal-State Los Angeles. Rocio is currently an A-G Diploma Project Counselor at a high school in South Los Angeles. In her role, she uses both her education and counseling skills to help high school students who are credit deficient create a plan that will get them to graduation. Here is a little of her First Gen Journey . . .
In this episode, Dr. Hernandez interviews Rocio Herrera, an A-G Diploma Project Counselor at a high school in Los Angeles, about her First Gen Journey. She discusses her early need for structure and guidance, her strategy for creating a career path that would provide flexibility and security, and how her First Gen identity helps her relate to her students. Here are a few highlights from his episode:
· Rocio’s father worked as a welder and her mother worked as a machine operator. Both her parents worked for their respective companies for over 30 years (1:08). Growing up, Rocio understand that work meant having a schedule and routine. She also received the message that work was a priority because her parents made it a point to not miss a day of work (2:49).
· Her early exposure to education and career centered around a common saying her parents would share “Tanto sabes, tanto ganas – The more you know, the more you earn.” But her most impactful experience was witnessing the reaction to her brother’s transition out of high school. She remembers her mother being disappointed that her brother didn’t pursue college and at that point, Rocio decided that she would definitely be going to college (3:51). Despite this goal, her parents couldn’t really help her when it came time to apply. Rocio relied on her school resources and friends to figure out the college application process (5:12).
· Rocio applied to and was accepted to Cal-Poly, Pomona but during the summer between high school and college she felt completely lost and didn’t know what steps she needed to take to follow through on her registration and enrollment. She missed the deadline and wasn’t able to register for the fall. Luckily, a friend helped guide her and encouraged her to apply at Cal-State, Los Angeles so that she could start school in the fall as planned (7:01).
· Once at Cal-State, LA, Rocio joined the Urban Learning program and received more structure and guidance through her college journey (9:15). She had an early interest in education and teaching and the fact that they provided so much support helped her feel more secure.
· Rocio learned from her past mistakes and used her time in college to build on her strengths and weaknesses. She realized that she performed better when she surrounded herself with motivated and disciplined friends/colleagues. Taking a team approach after college helped her avoid the lost feeling she experienced after high school (12:28).
· Her first job out of college was as a part-time ESL teacher and a substitute teacher. These jobs didn’t necessarily reflect the stability that she grew up seeing in her parents’ jobs, but it afforded her freedom, flexibility, and a chance to gain experience (14:19). She noted that having more flexibility in that first job allowed her to develop better self-care skills and be able to make herself a priority some days (17:06).
· After teaching for three years, Rocio started to recognize how much the other aspects of her students’ lives affected their academic performance. Using a community circle technique she studied in college, she learned how important it is to build community and relationships amongst her students. These experiences reignited the desire she had to pursue counseling and she decided to go back to school. For Rocio, getting a Master’s degree in School Based Family Counseling would allow her to have more financial security, have more job options, and utilize a skill set she felt more connected to (18:59).
· Rocio had the support of her parents and the internal confidence to pursue her Master’s degree. However, she also knew that she would have to find a way to get her degree while also working full-time so that she could continue to support herself and fulfill her responsibilities (23:10).
· Today Rocio works as an A-G Diploma Project Counselor working with students who are credit deficient. She helps them develop a plan to get them to graduation and consider their post-high school options (25:38). Her First Gen identity is crucial to helping her relate to both parents and students.
· Rocio doesn’t feel isolated among her colleagues as a First Gen professional because she is surrounded by similar peers. However, interacting with administrators will sometimes bring up feelings of insecurity (28:38).
· Rocio uses her experience as a First Gen college student and daughter of immigrants to motivate her students to take advantage of the educational opportunities presented to them (32:04).
Rocio’s tips for First Gen students and professionals wanting to go into the education field:
1. Network – It’s a small community so end relationships on good terms and express gratitude.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, ask for help, and seek feedback.