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First-Generation Stories

We're collecting stories and advice to help our first-gen community thrive. Texas State first-gen students, alumni, faculty, and staff share their graduate experiences. Hear what they have to say!

Students | Faculty + Staff


Elisia A. Paiz

“I was really interested in gaining research experience, and I quickly learned that Texas State has some great research opportunities. I was lucky enough to be accepted to the South Texas Doctoral Bridge Program here that aims to prepare underrepresented groups for advanced degrees in biomedical research. We are a small group, but most of us are first-generation students and likely to be the first in our families to obtain a Ph.D.”

Elisia A. Paiz, first-generation college student, master's student biochemistry

Christopher Solis

“The large number of graduate assistantships available on campus is a great financial resource. Thanks to Jobs4Cats, I was able to find a very agreeable position that gave me the financial support I needed to pursue my program and was also flexible enough that I could focus on, and succeed in, my studies.”

— Christopher Solis, first-generation college student, master's student in literature

Panelist Laura Vazquez Arreguin

“By taking time off school to work, read and explore the world, I eventually was able to gather the resources I needed to start my graduate degree. At Texas State, my experience is being appreciated with financial as well as faculty and staff support.”

— Laura Vazquez Arreguin, first-generation college student, master's student in international studies

Laura Vazquez Arreguin is the 2019 Coverdell Fellow, in the master’s in international studies program at Texas State University. She works as a graduate assistant at the Center for International Studies. She has worked as a high school teacher in Houston, where she graduated from the University of Houston-Downtown with a degree in Philosophy and one in Psychology. She also worked in the south of Armenia as a Peace Corp volunteer from 2015 to 2018 as an English teacher.  She was born and raised in Mexico, and is now fluent in Armenian, English and Spanish. 

Moderator Brittany Davis

“Mentoring has played a major role in my success in graduate school. I feel so fortunate to have found two excellent mentors at Texas State University who have guided me through several decisions and have supported my research and extracurricular endeavors.”

— Brittany Davis, M.A., first-generation college student, doctoral student in adult, professional, and community education

Brittany Davis is a third-year doctoral student in the adult, professional, and community education program at Texas State University and current Student Development Specialist II in The Graduate College. She holds a master’s degree in adult education from Texas State University and a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Texas A&M University-Central Texas.

Brittany's research revolves around nonformal learning in a variety of settings including the workplace, community, and study abroad. For her dissertation study, she is examining the experiences of international graduate students as they participate in peer mentor circles. Brittany has two publications in top adult education journals and has presented at over a dozen national conferences. As a doctoral student, she has received several scholarships and fellowships including the Doctoral Merit Fellowship, Celebrity Classic Scholarship, and Phi Kappa Phi Love of Learning Award. Brittany is the founder of the adult, professional, and community education graduate student organization and serves as a commissioner for the Sustainability Board for the City of Buda.

Christie Hill-Troglin Cox

“Texas State is more than an institution to me, this is where I grew to be a young woman and returned post grad to develop my professional knowledge and skills, and it has ultimately allowed me to the opportuntiy to expand professionally in the field of education. I have returned  because Texas State is home. I am Texas State.”

— Christie Hill-Troglin Cox, M.Ed., NIC, first-generation college student, doctoral student in developmental education

Gwen Balboa

“As a first-gen student, obtaining my bachelor’s degree was already a major accomplishment, and I never considered that I could go further. The best advice I can give to other first-gen students considering grad school is to take the first step and apply. It’s not as daunting as it seems, and help with the application process is only a phone call or email away. Yes, you can go to grad school!”

— Gwendolyn Balboa, M.A., first-generation college student, Senior Degree Audit Specialist, The Graduate College

Gwendolyn graduated with her BFA in Theatre from Texas State in summer 2014, seven years after finishing high school. The path to obtaining her bachelor's was non-traditional to say the least, so she likes to say that she stumbled into higher education. That year, she was hired with the College of Fine Arts and Communication where she discovered a passion for helping students from all walks of life achieve their educational goals. During her tenure with the college, she began course work toward a second bachelor's degree, but was encouraged by the Graduate Program Advisor and her co-workers to apply for Grad School instead; a dream she never considered as a first-generation student. In spring 2018, Gwen earned her MA in Mass Communication and has a new home at Texas State with The Graduate College.

Panelist Dr. Natalie Ceballos

“My first piece of advice is to check out summer programs. Participating in summer programs during my undergraduate studies really helped me to narrow down my career interests. For example, I shadowed several physicians and completed a summer undergraduate research experience at a nearby medical school. That research experience really inspired me and convinced me to pursue a PhD in Neuroscience, which set me on my current career path. My second piece of advice is to always be on the lookout for good mentors. Along the way, I have had many wonderful mentors and colleagues who have guided my decision-making and helped me adjust to the culture of academia. I would not have made it this far without their help.”

— Dr. Natalie Ceballos, first-generation college student, Professor, Department of Psychology

Dr. Natalie Ceballos is a first-generation college graduate raised in rural Oklahoma. She earned her bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in 1998 and a doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in 2003. Following an NIH-sponsored postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Connecticut Health Center, she joined the faculty of Texas State University in 2006. Currently, Dr. Ceballos is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Texas State, where her research interests focus on the interactions of stress and addictive behaviors in college students. Her work has been funded by the NIH and Humanities Texas.

Dr. Joanne Smith

“If you're succeeding as an undergraduate student, then you have the potential to obtain a graduate degree. Although it is different, you can do it. You're here. You're making it now, and you can succeed as a graduate student!”

— Dr. Joanne Smith, first-generation college student, Vice President for Student Affairs

Dr. Smith came to Texas State in 1992, serving as Director of Residence Life until 2000, when she began serving as the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Director of Enrollment Management. She became Vice President for Student Affairs in 2005. Dr. Smith was one of the founding faculty members for the student affairs master’s program and continues to work with the program. She has been actively working in student affairs for over 40 years.

A first-generation graduate, she earned a B.S. in elementary education from Edinboro State University, a master's in student personnel and guidance from Wichita State University, and a Ph.D. in student personnel administration from Kansas State University.


If you have a connection to Texas State and are interested in telling your story, we would love to share your experience with the Texas State community.

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