First-Gen student finds support from UHCL engagement program

July 11, 2018 | George Mattingly II

First-Gen student finds support from UHCL engagement program

University of Houston-Clear Lake business graduate Joshua Garcia is celebrating the achievement of a lifelong dream of college graduation, and is eager to begin his next step toward his goal of becoming a teacher.

“It feels euphoric. I’m looking forward to becoming an EC-6 teacher and ultimately a principal so I can help prepare a new generation of students,” Garcia said.
However, the journey has not come without its challenges. For Garcia, a first-generation college student, the transition to college was daunting.

“I lacked knowledge about how to borrow money for college,” Garcia said. “My parents only have a high school education, so they never had a college experience to guide me.”

All that changed when Joshua met Erika Garcia, coordinator of UH-Clear Lake’s Gen-One Academy, a support program designed to help first-generation students take advantage of campus resources and connect them with a mentor to navigate the college experience.

“When I found out about the program, I knew it would help me with the challenges I faced in education like filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), meeting other students like me, and just having someone to talk to,” Joshua said.

Joshua’s challenges are echoed by many of UHCL’s first-generation population, which makes up about one-third of the study body, Erika said.
“Many of them are tied to family obligations,” she said. “While going to school and working to support themselves, they also contribute to family income.”

With these added responsibilities, finding time for academic responsibilities can create a lot of tension between the students and their relatives who don’t fully understand the commitments of higher education, Erika said.

She added these types of engagement programs are important to create a culture of support for these students.

“There are a lot of resources on campus, but there is no roadmap for students to find them. This program provides that for them,” Erika said. “In addition to that, it exposes students to opportunities to engage in new dialogues with each other about diversity and creates a cohort for them to help each other.”

The program requires students to participate in six educational activities, a collaboration project and to attend monthly meetings with Erika within two semesters. The activities range from leadership workshops to diversity seminars to volunteer projects on campus.

Joshua knew the program was key to his success not only as a student but also after graduation, which motivated him to complete the year’s requirements in one semester. Through activities like the Social Justice Dinner Dialogues, the #MeToo Movement educational display, a showing of the documentary “13th,” and meeting with Career Services, Joshua said he feels prepared for his future.

“The program was flexible enough that I could find activities that fit my personal interests, but at the same time, it kept me accountable,” he said. “I was able to learn a lot about how to lead and to work with diverse groups.”

Looking forward, Joshua feels confident in sharing his experiences to help others like him who may not have a mentor at home.

“I have a younger brother, and now I can help guide him through his college experience,” he said. “As a teacher, I look forward to helping a new generation of students prepare for college.”

His advice to future UHCL Hawks: get involved. “Join as many clubs as you can,” he said. “Try to be part of the UHCL community because you never know who you will meet and you might find people who can support you along the way.”

For more information on the Gen-One Academy, visit To learn more about diversity and inclusion at UHCL, visit