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Student Spotlight

Heily Gonzalez


Heily Gonzalez is standing outside at Cornell campus. She is smiling and wearing a black dress

Reflect on your experience as a first-generation college student. What do you wish people knew?

As a first-generation college student, my journey has been marked by unique challenges and a deep sense of responsibility. What I wish people knew is that being the first in my family to attend college means more than just personal success; it represents breaking barriers and setting an example for future generations. The path has been filled with financial struggles, navigating a complex academic environment, and the pressure to succeed not just for myself, but for my family and community.

As a first-generation college student, you’re likely to experience different challenges or barriers compared to your non-first-generation peers. Tell us about a challenge you faced at Cornell and how you were able to cope or overcome this challenge.

At Cornell, one of the most significant challenges I faced was adapting to the rigorous academic environment. Coming from an under-resourced background, the transition to a prestigious institution like Cornell was daunting. However, I coped by seeking out academic advisors and utilizing tutoring services to bridge the gap.

Seeking help from programs like Higher Education Opportunity Programs (HEOP), Pre-Professional Programs (P3), and having mentors within clubs and organizations like the Black Ivy Pre-Law Society made the transition a lot easier. I also drew upon my determination, a trait that has guided me through previous challenges. Over time, I developed effective study habits and time management skills, allowing me to excel academically.

What does it mean to you to be the first in your family to attend college?

Being the first in my family to attend college is a profound source of pride and a sense of duty. It signifies breaking intergenerational cycles of limited opportunities and opening doors for my siblings and future generations. It is a commitment to making the most of the opportunities I have and giving back to those who have supported me. This journey is not just about personal success but about uplifting my entire family and community.

What resources, programs, or people at Cornell helped you the most?

At Cornell, the support of academic advisors, professors, and programs like P3 and HEOP has been invaluable.

I began my Cornell journey in the summer of 2022 as part of the Pre-Collegiate Scholars Program, a mandatory component as an HEOP student. However, this experience not only helped bridge the gap of academic rigor but also afforded me the opportunity to establish invaluable connections with fellow first-generation students who shared similar backgrounds, which are bonds I still carry.

The mentorship and guidance provided by P3 have been essential in shaping my goals and aspirations. Additionally, the community of fellow first-generation students at Cornell has provided a sense of camaraderie and shared experience that has been a source of encouragement and support.