Non-traditional, first-generation student graduates with support of prof

May 17, 2019 | Katherine Adams

Non-traditional, first-generation student graduates with support of prof

Nora Arriaga came to the United States as a young bride from Mexico in 1993. She did not speak much English, and she took a long time away from her education to raise her five children. After her children’s school librarian inspired her to improve her English and begin a career teaching children, she returned to school, became proficient in English and will be walking across the stage this weekend to receive her Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies with an EC-6 Bilingual Supplement from University of Houston-Clear Lake.

“When my youngest child was four, I decided to get better with my English,” Arriaga said. “The librarian always told me I was very good with children, and I knew I loved being with young children. I went to San Jacinto Community College and improved my language proficiency and then I got my associate of arts in teaching. But I thought I should go ahead and become a teacher.”

Arriaga, whose children attend Pasadena Independent School District, completed her teaching internship at Sparks Elementary School in Pasadena I.S.D. “I had wonderful mentors at Sparks and I had very helpful and motivational professors at UH-Clear Lake,” she said. “I learned to understand, read and write very well in English, but I still have trouble with pronunciation. I have a heavy accent, and sometimes I think it makes me too shy to speak up.”

She said her professors helped her get over her reluctance to speak. “They always said, ‘Speak up! You should participate! Do not be embarrassed about your accent, it’s part of you.’ So now I feel that I can show others that they can learn English, even if they are adults and it’s harder. I was very lucky to have such good professors,” she said.

Although Arriaga does not yet have a job, she said she is hopeful and is completing applications. “It’s my priority to work in Pasadena I.S.D.,” she said.

As a first-generation college student, she said she is so excited to graduate. “I feel that this is too good to be true,” she said. “I have been in school so many years, but I’m so happy I am going to finish.”

Her advice to other prospective non-traditional, first-generation college students? “Everything is possible,” she said. “Never give up, even if you don’t speak English. You can be a mom and a student, even though it might take more time than the others. You are never too old, even if you think you are. UHCL is very well prepared to help non-traditional students, and I recommend it 100 percent.”

For more information about UHCL's College of Education, visit