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AWC first-generation students chosen to visit the White House

AWC students were able to celebrate First Gen College Celebration Week in Washington DC

WASHINGTON (KYMA, KECY) - Two students from the Arizona Western College (AWC) San Luis Learning Center had the opportunity to celebrate National First-Generation College Student Day in Washington DC.

Samantha Olivarria and Ivianse Rodriguez were chosen to attend an inaugural celebration at the White House with Professor Dr. Sara Amani accompanying them in early November.

The celebration for National First-Generation College Student Day had a platform for discussions and insights from speakers, including the challenges and opportunities for first-generation students.

AWC said the key themes throughout the event were the commitment to expanding educational opportunities and the positive impact of collaboration.

"Accompanying these two exceptional students to the First-Generation College Student Day at the White House has been a source of immense pride for me. Nominating them was an honor, and seeing them engage with prominent figures and contribute their perspectives to crucial discussions on education was truly inspiring. These two remarkable student leaders exemplify the spirit of resilience and ambition that defines first-generation students,” said Dr. Sara Amani, AWC Professor of Multilingual Composition/Specialist.

AWC said while the students were in Washington DC, they were able to attend meetings with U.S. Congressman Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Kelsey Gardner, Deputy Chief of Staff for U.S. Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

After attending a panel discussion at the White House, they were also able to speak with one of the panelists, Melody Gonzales, about AWC’s Hispanic Serving Institution status.

One of the first-generation students, Samantha Olivarria, who is majoring in Radiologic Technology, said her journey in college has been challenging.

However, she said that her time at AWC has been filled with personal growth and fulfillment.

“I am deeply grateful for the opportunities AWC has given me since day one. I cannot find words to express my gratitude to the entire team behind the college, and to wonderful professors like Dr. Sara Amani,” said Olivarria. “This journey leaves me with so much to reflect on and inspires me to push myself further, knowing that the sky is the limit. The pride and happiness I see in my parents' eyes as they see their dreams come true through me is an indescribable feeling. I am happy to start setting an example for my siblings and motivating them to join me as the first generation of our family to pursue higher education. We might be the first, but our ambition is to ensure we are not the last, echoing the brave sentiment expressed by Ivianse, my fellow companion on this trip to DC. This is just the beginning, and I encourage everyone to persist; every step taken brings us one step closer to our goals.”

Another first-generation student, Ivianse Rodriguez, who is majoring in Nursing, said college has given her many opportunities.

“I truly feel honored for this opportunity, and I am deeply grateful to Dr. Sara Amani for believing in me and providing me with this chance. Dr. Amani is nothing short of a Superwoman; her incredible efforts made all of this possible. I see Samantha, my fellow traveler to Washington DC, as more than just a companion; she's a role model. She is brilliant, kind, and incredible. She is the first person at AWC I have encountered who truly understands the challenges faced by first-generation students,” said Rodriguez.

When Rodriguez told her family about the trip, she said there wasn't a dry eye in the room.

“Both my mom and my grandma couldn’t hold back tears. They said all the struggles and difficulties they have gone through were worth it for opportunities like this. Witnessing their joy brought tears to my eyes,” Rodriguez said. “I recall my parents' tireless efforts, working long days to ensure my siblings and I could focus on our education. My extended family, including my grandma, uncle, and aunts, were always ready to support us. It reminded me that, in some way, they are living the life they couldn't have through me, which reinforces my commitment to making the most of every opportunity. I will continue to work hard, seize as many opportunities as possible, and give back to my community in every way I can.”

To read more about the visit, check out the press release below.

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