Dreams and Determination: From Rural Roots to University Aspirations

Thursday May 23, 2024

First-generation students, often referred to as “first-gens,” are college-bound individuals whose parents did not pursue higher education. This significant milestone represents a break from familial and often socio-economic traditions, symbolizing hope, perseverance, and the pursuit of greater opportunities. For many first-gens, the journey to higher education is fraught with unique challenges and triumphs. Below is one in a series of stories about Kern County first-gens as they embark on the next chapters of their lives.

To nominate someone for a story in this series, please reach out to communcations@kern.org

Vanessa Ponce

As a little girl growing up in Kern’s rural high desert, Vanessa Ponce’s career aspirations were as varied as the seasons. A doctor, an engineer, a dentist — they have all made the list of things she might want to pursue one day. 

“Like many kids, my dreams have been inconsistent,” she said. “The one constant has been my desire to go to a university.”

Her dreams will soon become reality. Vanessa will graduate as Rosamond High School’s valedictorian on June 4 boasting an incredible 4.59 GPA. 

She says her ambition is deeply rooted in her family’s history. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States during their adolescence, making Vanessa the first in her family to embark on the journey to a four-year university.

Vanessa Ponce will attend CSU San Bernardino and study biology.

“They have drilled the importance of further education into my brain since I can remember,” she said. “I was taught the importance of taking advantage of the opportunities my parents were not fortunate enough to have.”

One of these opportunities is Rosamond High’s dual enrollment program, a partnership with Antelope Valley College, where Vanessa was able to complete college courses while still in high school. She has already amassed 36 college credits before stepping onto a university campus.

“This is incredibly beneficial for all high school students,” she said. “Not only has this opportunity saved me an immense amount of time, but also a significant amount of money.”

Vanessa Ponce poses with her family.

The path to becoming university-bound has been challenging, especially given her family’s financial struggles and the fact that neither of her parents has experience going to college personally. 

“I had countless questions throughout the process of applying to colleges and scholarships,” Vanessa said. “Sometimes I felt that I was walking blindly.”

Fortunately, the counselors at her school have played a pivotal role in the journey. As a first-generation student, she often felt lost, but their guidance and resources were invaluable. Through one-on-one meetings and various workshops, they provided the support needed to navigate the complex process, Vanessa said.

She was also quick to point out that growing up in a rural community has been a blessing. Familiar faces were always nearby, and the support system was immense, a testament to the kind of pride that defines tight-knit Rosamond.

“I have had the privilege of building unbreakable bonds with people I can call my neighbors,” Vanessa said.

While she was accepted into eight out of the nine universities she applied to, including UCLA, UC Irvine, and Cal Poly SLO, she ultimately chose to attend California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB), due to its favorable financial and geographic attributes.

Reflecting on her journey, Vanessa attributes her success to God and her parents above all else. 

“They have taught me that through hard work and dedication, nothing is impossible,” she said. 

By Robert Meszaros

By Robert Meszaros

Rob Meszaros is Director of Communications for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, where he has served since 2012. In his role, Meszaros oversees media relations, internal and external communication strategies, publications, Marcom, branding, and multi-media content creation. Before joining KCSOS, Meszaros was the PIO for CSU Bakersfield and earlier worked for seven years at The Bakersfield Californian.