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Alumni | Arts and Sciences | First GenerationApril 02, 2024

First-Generation Staff Spotlight: Patricia Hurtado Perez

Written By: First-Generation Committee

The First-Generation staff spotlight for March features Patricia Hurtado Perez, coordinator for the Upward Bound Math and Science program at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith. As a Hispanic first-generation student, Perez overcame unique challenges and found her purpose while pursuing her undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Perez described her opportunity to attend UAFS as a time to break barriers. Her parents did not attend college, so as the first to go in her family, it allowed her to experience new things.

“(Her college experience was) empowering, but equally nerve-wracking,” Perez explained.

She admitted that going to UAFS forced her to step out of her comfort zone, resulting in feeling overwhelmed, isolated, and without a mentor to help guide her. Despite the unwavering support of Perez’s parents, they didn’t have much advice to provide as she navigated college.

“My parents had to develop skills fast to make a living and provide,” Perez said as she recalled feeling guilty for viewing her obstacles as “easier” than what her parents overcame.

However, Perez faced challenges unique to someone like herself: a Hispanic and a first-generation student. She said that during her time at UAFS, she struggled to find someone who looked like her on campus. Perez described it as a time when it was challenging to have someone she could relate with and who shared similar cultural experiences.

As a Hispanic student, Perez said her challenges led her to turn inward. She focused on maintaining her studies, retaining her scholarships, and graduating as fast as she could. By doing so, Perez said other students with a similar background could relate – she felt a pressure to complete her education quickly, find a good job, and begin providing for her parents as they had always done for her.

Undeterred, Perez continued to power through, and in May 2020, she graduated from UAFS with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics with teaching licensure. However, she wasn’t satisfied. That August, she enrolled in a master’s program at the University of Central Arkansas and completed her graduate degree in math education in May 2022.

While completing her master’s degree, Perez said some of her challenges as a first-generation student resurfaced while battling a sense of imposter syndrome.

“In a class of about 10 students, I was the only Hispanic student,” Perez said. “Although I earned a master’s degree and was fortunate enough to graduate with zero student debt, I wasn’t satisfied with my success, even though I worked hard to achieve it.”

Despite accomplishing so much, Perez said her feeling of needing to be more successful is familiar among many first-generation students. However, instead of letting it get the best of her, Perez uses this feeling to make a difference for students at UAFS.

“I hope that students now have the opportunity that I wasn’t fortunate enough to have,” she said.

Drawing on her experience as a Hispanic first-generation student, Perez is now the mentor she sought out while at UAFS. Additionally, as the coordinator for the Upward Bound Math and Science program, Perez leans on her past participation in the program at Arkansas Tech University when she was in high school.

At UAFS, Perez helps connect students with resources as she guides them through college. Through her background, she can recognize her impact on students by being someone on campus they can relate to and who has shared life experiences. Perez said she helps motivate students to continue to work hard and encourages them to seek help when needed.

“Don’t let past generational challenges stop you from breaking barriers and paving the way for future generations. We are first-generation college students now and will always be,” Perez said. “Every step up will be new but also exciting. Don’t give up even when it gets tough. Reach out to other first-generation students, share experiences, and work on making our world a better place just like our parents hoped it would be for us.”

  • Tags:
  • Staff
  • Alumni
  • Upward Bound Math Science
  • First Generation

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