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Nathalie Franco

Faculty: Dr. Nathalie Franco
Assistant Professor, Psychology
Pathway: Social Behavioral Sciences and Human Services
Central Campus

I grew up in Venezuela and moved to Florida in the middle of my junior year of high school. My parents had similar stories since they moved from Italy (dad) and Egypt (mom) during their high school years. They both started college but did not complete their degrees. When we moved to the United States, we had to learn about a new culture and a new language. It was all so new for my family. I took the SAT on a Saturday morning because I was encouraged by teachers to take it, but I had no idea why I was taking this test or what it meant for my future. Just over a year after moving to the US, I graduated high school and I started college at Miami-Dade College.

What motivated you to attend college?
I was motivated to attend college because I loved school and I thought I wanted to be a doctor. I went to a community college because the thought of attending a 4-year school was too overwhelming. I had mentors all along the way who guided me on how to find a major that matched my interest and how to stay on track to graduate and even apply to graduate school. I was encouraged by Dr. Mary Levitt to apply to the Ph.D. program in Developmental Psychology at FIU. I had never met anyone with a Ph.D. before. Dr. Levitt believed in me even when I wasn't able to perform as well on the GRE as test expected. By this point, I had only been speaking English for a few years. I still had so much to learn.

What were the biggest challenges you encountered as a first-generation college student? How did you overcome these challenges?
The biggest challenge I encountered was financial. My grandparents and my parents tried their best to help pay for my college tuition. I lived at home to save money. I also took out loans, applied for scholarships, and I had a part-time job.  The support from my family and with loans and scholarships made it possible to afford school. When I first started college, it was difficult to understand the pre-requisites for medical school and learning everything in a new language. If I would have stayed in Venezuela, I believe I would have studied medicine to become a pediatrician. Instead, I majored in psychology and eventually earned a Ph.D. in child development.

What advice would you give other first-generation college students?
Ask for help and advice from faculty, advisors, and your peers. There is nothing wrong with not knowing and remember that asking for help is a sign of courage! Find yourself at least one mentor! You will be amazed how incredible it is to develop a relationship with someone who cares about your success and about your well-being. Don't forget to thank them!

While we often talk about the challenges first generation students face, they also have unique sets of life experiences that can serve them well in college and beyond. How did your background as a first-generation college student help you in college? What skills and experiences did you draw upon?
I believe that my determination and will to succeed were strong drives inside of me, but having a close family and the support of my grandparents are significant pieces of my first-generation story. My parents and my grandparents were always excited to hear about my college experiences, both academic and extra-curricular. Even when they didn't understand what I shared with them about my research and courses. They were always interested. I knew that they couldn't teach me how to navigate college, but they were always proud of me and amazingly supportive!

How does being a first-generation student influence you (and/or your work) today?
Today I teach at BC and I am reminded of my early years at Miami-Dade College. I have students just like myself who have recently moved to this country and who are still learning English as a second language. I understand their perspective and I am their # 1 supporter. I encourage them to ask questions, seek opportunities, get involved, find their passion, and be aware of their strengths as they pursue their dream. I am very fortunate to give back to students and to guide students just like someone did for me when I was in college. I have always had mentors that have encouraged me. I decided to bring the #firstgenproud visibility campaign after reading an article about Dr. Rebecca Covarrubias who launched the first-generation initiative at UC Santa Cruz. I am most grateful for her guidance.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your first-generation student experience?
I will always be in gratitude to Dr. Mary Levitt who became my advisor while I pursued my Ph.D. degree. I first met Dr. Levitt when I enrolled in her Child Development course as a junior at FIU. Her mentoring changed my life. I want to continue to mentor first generation and other students whose parents may not understand how to navigate the college and/or transfer experience. I want to connect students with faculty and with resources and that's why I decided to apply for the ASPEN Faculty Innovation Grant and to bring the #firstgenproud visibility campaign to BC. With a team of colleagues (first gen faculty and first gen supporters) who have collaborated with me to make this campaign a reality, we can make a difference in the lives of FGS at BC. I am grateful for the #firstgenproud team and all the work they have done to launch this initiative. This is only the beginning!

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