"I am First-Gen" – Arnold Torres

Tuesday, November 1, 2022
I am First-Gen: Arnold

Arnold Torres, Manager, Recruitment and Outreach, shares his story of overcoming culture shock and finding community as a first-generation college student at Arizona State University.

What does being a first-generation student mean to you?

1st-gen means that you are likely navigating college as the first in your family with no experience and/or wisdom to draw upon from immediate family. You likely have to leverage other skills and traits you have to navigate the college culture.

What memories do you have of being a first-generation college student? What challenged you and what surprised you?

I remember the culture shock, I felt that immediately the first day I stepped foot in my new dorm. I was all of a sudden surrounded by people who did not look like me, they were non-minority students, and they appeared to be comfortable financially, which appeared to eliminate many obstacles for them. I knew immediately that I would have to adapt to survive this new culture, and figure out how to overcome these obstacles that were presented from not having abundant or even adequate resources financially. This was my biggest challenge. I am from a very small mining town in rural Arizona, and my High School graduating class was a total of 60 people. I went to Arizona State University, which is way larger than the town I grew up in. I could not seek advice from my parents, because they had never experienced anything like this, they did not attend college, and they were faced with their own set of challenges raising my younger siblings.

I was surprised that there was this extremely diverse world outside of this town I grew up in. Although I couldn’t seem to find students similar to me, ethnically and culturally, I began to experience interactions with diverse populations of students from different countries, different States, different parts of the State, different cultures, religions, and etc. I was really excited about this, and embraced this immediately.

What helped you most in your first year of college

It helped that I went to college with my twin brother. We navigated this new college culture together. The challenges that I mentioned would have been more difficult to overcome if I didn’t have my brother along my side. Also, I was directed to a job opportunity at the Student Recreation Center. An older student from my hometown connected me. I took a maintenance job with Dave Valdez, I’ll never forget Dave! He was the same ethnicity as me, and that made me feel comfortable. He didn’t know, but he made me feel part of something, and gave me a connection and purpose. This truly kept me as a student at ASU. Soon, I became a personal trainer and worked maintenance in the Student Recreation Complex, and the community of students and staff in the SRC was my community. This connection was vital to my success in remaining at ASU until I graduated.

How did you find your path in your chosen field and your job? 

I found my path to Kinesiology as an athlete in high school. I knew I wanted to be part of something related to athletics. Originally, I wanted to become an Athletic Trainer, and learned ASU did not have a program. I chose the next interesting major, Kinesiology.

What advice would you give first-generation students at GateWay?

I would advise first-gen students to explore the college to find that connection that will make them feel comfortable. Dave Valdez, a Maintenance Man at ASU was that person for me. He soon connected me to the Exercise Staff in the SRC, and once I was connected I felt a support system. First-gen students visit the support services, advisors, student life, clubs, etc. There are also programs like leadership programs for 1st gen-students. Students should ask their advisors and faculty about these programs. I would tell 1st gen-students to create a network and ask questions!