First Gen students share their stories

Portland State University joins thousands of universities across the country Nov. 8 to celebrate First Generation college students. National First Generation Celebration Day commemorates the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965 — landmark legislation that paved the way for federal educational opportunity programs such as TRIO and financial aid — to acknowledge and celebrate the success of First Gen students.

Portland State students, faculty, staff and alumni who identify as First Gen are invited to share their stories using this form, or post on social and tag #PSUFirstGen. Responses will be highlighted on the Multicultural Student Centers Instagram account. Our aim is to celebrate the accomplishments and determination that come with the First Generation college experience, along with the diverse, intersectional identities of our First Gen community. We also want to remind current students that they are not alone — we have built an entire campus community to support you and encourage you now and long after you earn your degree. 

More than one-third of PSU students are First Generation! Hear a few stories from others who also have “been the first.”


Shayla Naswood, a junior in Portland State’s Business School, is majoring in Marketing.

Ayan Muhumed

Ayan Muhumed

Majoring in Social Work
Family came to U.S. as refugees from Ethiopia/Somalia

In second year serving as a Peer Outreach Mentor for Trio-SSS

“As a First Generation graduate, I will become the first woman in my family to get a bachelor’s degree. I want to become a great role model for my younger siblings. 

One of the things that motivated me to embark on this path was the desire to make my parents proud and to contribute back to my community with my education. My parents made several sacrifices for my siblings and myself in order for us to have a better life than they had. 

I wish I knew that I belong to higher education. Not seeing people who look like me made me feel like I shouldn’t be here. I also wish I had known that asking for help is necessary, that being afraid of the unknown is normal, and that I don’t have to figure out everything at a certain age. 

A challenge that I faced as a First Gen student is self doubt. I have noticed every term when things get complicated, I feel like dropping out. Something that helped me overcome this struggle was reminding myself how supportive my family is and how proud I’d be when I graduate. 

The one resource that supported me throughout my journey at Portland state is TRIO-Student Support Services, TRIO-SSS. As a First Generation student, I am immensely grateful for all the support, guidance, and resources I have obtained from TRIO SSS. Without the remarkable and easily accessible advising services of the TRIO SSS program, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Big thanks to Andrea, my TRIO-SSS advisor, for walking me through this journey!”

Giovanni Barranco-Medina

Giovanni Barranco-Medina

Majoring in Psychology, graduating in 2022
Served as a TRIO-SSS mentor at both Mt Hood Community College and PSU 

“Being a First Gen student means so much to me. I’m creating a pathway for me, my family, and future generations to attend higher education and pursue their dreams no matter where you come from. My family is a huge reason why I can attend college and I would not be here without them. 

My journey here at PSU has been a fun one but it was definitely not easy. I struggled a lot when I first started attending PSU and it took awhile for me to find my footing. Being a First Gen student meant I had no one to ask when it came to how college works. I had to figure everything out for myself and it was pretty confusing and intimidating. 

Luckily, I ran into a great resource here at PSU — TRiO-SSS. With their help I was able to have a good resource that taught me how to be a college student and what I needed to do in order to get the degree I wanted. After being here at PSU for 2 years, I can honestly say  that I would not be here without their help, I am truly grateful for that resource. 

My advice for first gen students coming to PSU is, don’t be afraid to ask for help! There are resources here to help you find your way. You do belong here and although it may be confusing at first, you can and will find your footing just like I did.”

Caitlin Costello

Caitlin Costello

Entered PSU as a transfer student in Fall 2020
Majoring in Environmental Sciences

“I always wanted to become a scientist and one day have my research featured in National Geographic. My role models didn’t let anything stand in their way to make a difference, and I wanted the same. I knew that to accomplish this, I needed to go to school. 

I had no guidance. My mother finished high school and my father, middle school. While they were supportive and proud of my ambitions, they offered little concrete guidance on the intricacies of academia. 

At first, I was afraid. I was unsure that I would be capable of this endeavor and equally as unsure that I deserved the space to try, I was afraid to ask questions and did not know how to advocate for myself. But if there is anything I am best at, it is perseverance and an optimism that is rooted in resilience and curiosity.  

So, I started with one or two community college classes at a time, those that would serve as general education credits while I slowly figured out exactly what scientific major would suit me best. I toured university campuses and spoke with advisors at each to help better assess what programs would suit my interests.

What attracted me to Portland State was the higher numbers of non-traditional students. I knew that I would be surrounded by people who were more like me. I have found community here and with it, my voice. Throughout my time here I have rediscovered how to ask for help and to set boundaries.”

Nicole Trujillo-Salazar 

Nicole Trujillo-Salazar

Majoring in Health Sciences and Psychology
Works on the student staff at TRIO-SSS and as a Peer Mentor

“Being a First Generation represents progress for my family. It also means that I have been privileged enough to pursue an education and can give back. My biggest motivation is my mom. My mom gave up everything to come here to this country and give me a chance to pursue a degree. Getting my degree would show that I didn’t take anything for granted and is a huge thank you to her. 

Before transitioning into college, I would have liked to know that taking care of your mental health is crucial. Most college students experience a lot of stress and anxiety and don’t know how to manage it. Not taking care of yourself affects your physical state, which transfers into the work you do. 

The biggest challenge that I faced was navigating college by myself and having the pressure to excel in college. No one in my family has been able to go to college or understand how college works. It was hard for my mom to understand the amount of work I got and how mentally tiring it can be. 

A resource that helped me throughout my years at PSU was TRIO. I have been part of this program since middle school and they have helped me every step of the way through my academic journey. TRIO helped me by providing me with academic advising and scholarship assistance.”

More First Generation student stories

Nya Mbock

Nya Mbock

ASPSU Student Body President
Majoring in Communication

Nya Mbock, president of the Associated Students of PSU, didn’t start her college career here, but once she transferred in 2019, the campus quickly became her home. “It’s been a really great fit for me,” she says. “It was a happy accident that the school I heard about growing up was totally right for me.” READ MORE

Monica Salazar

Monica Salazar

Vikings Distance Runner
Majoring in Pre-Nursing

Distance runner Monica Salazar is proud to be a first-generation immigrant from Guatemala, where she has relatives rooting for her on and off the track. Her family’s journey inspired her to seek a nursing degree, and running taught her that “anything is possible if you trust yourself and just go for it.” READ MORE

Adan Ramos

Adan Ramos

First Year student from McMinnville High School
Uncommitted, leaning toward Criminal Justice

Adan Ramos, a first-year student, is hoping to make his family proud and set a good example for his younger siblings. A graduate of McMinnville High, Ramos was drawn to PSU because the urban campus offers a new opportunity for him. “I’ve never lived in the city and I wanted to try it out,” he says. READ MORE

Ali and Chris Joseph

Ali and Chris Joseph

Portland State alumni
Founder of regionally based Cascade Spirits

Chris Joseph ’12 and Ali Joseph ’12 turned their hobby into a nationally recognized distillery, Cascade Spirits, and started a scholarship for First Generation students at PSU. “I was a First Generation college student and want to make sure these students have the resources to focus on school,” Chris says. READ MORE


PSU First Generation Celebration Events

Join the Multicultural Student Center and Global Diversity and Inclusion for two events celebrating First Generation college student identity. 

November 8
First Generation CelebrationIn-Person Event
3-5 pmMulticultural Student Center in Smith Student Union, Room 228
November 8
Virtual PanelHear First Gen stories featuring Nya Mbock, ASPSU Student Body President; Dr. Marcus Sharpe, Senior Instructor; and Diana Cervantes, TRIO Graduate Assistant and MSW student.





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