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Computer engineering student Nadxhieli Juarez is the first in her family to go to college. | Image: Courtesy of Nadxhieli Juarez

A senior computer engineering student in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University, Nadxhieli Juarez had to persevere through obstacles that many first-generation students face, such as the lack of access to resources.

“I admittedly lacked some level of STEM college readiness prior to my time at A&M, and this means that I have had to push myself a little more than my peers in a lot of my courses,” Nadxhieli said. “The lack of a resource is the opportunity to create that resource for yourself and for others.”

Coming from humble beginnings, Juarez is the first in her extended family to move away from home for college, defying all expectations set out for her. Because of that, she has become independent and has gained valuable experience.

“Being financially independent pushed me to seek on-campus job experiences that have in some way helped me grow professionally in my field, as early as my freshman year,” she said.

Nadxhieli, originally from the Rio Grande Valley, struggled to decide on a major. However, she found that engineering combined her problem-solving, physics and math interests to confront the problems creatively. 

“The best solutions are often the most creative ones, and those happen when we allow ourselves to take a step back and evaluate a problem from a different vantage point,” she said.

Now, she is part of Aggie Hispanics in Computing (AHIC), an organization that aims to help Latinx and Hispanic students embolden and explore their interests in technology. Through this organization, Juarez found people she connected with.

“Dr. (Dilma) Da Silva, our sponsor for Aggie Hispanics in Computing, was the first faculty member I ever shared any of my story with, and she has given me so much hope in pursuing my degree,” she said. “It really does mean the absolute world to me to come across someone who understands the difficulty of being a first-generation student and can be as inspiring as she is.”

Juarez, previously a mentee in Texas A&M College of Engineering’s First-Generation Students Mentoring (FGEn) program, is now a mentor. The goal of that program is to provide a community for first-generation students, providing help with personal and educational goals as they trek through college. 

“Looking back, I would now consider myself fortunate to have such a strong source of motivation,” she said. “I am more conscious of how difficult it can be to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, and I am hoping to be patient and receptive to the needs of my mentees.” 

Through AHIC and FGEn, Juarez made interpersonal connections with educators, peers and professionals that allowed her to be more confident in herself and her aspirations.

“I came to realize the value of being a first-generation college student and the pride that comes with growing into the role model that my younger sibling and family members deserve,” she said.