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Guerrero recently got a PhD in Education from the University of California, Santa Barbara. A year ago, Guerrero launched FirstGen Resilience with the purpose of helping more first-generation Latinos access college and graduate school.
Guerrero recently got a PhD in Education from the University of California, Santa Barbara. A year ago, Guerrero launched FirstGen Resilience with the purpose of helping more first-generation Latinos access college and graduate school. Photo: Sergio Garcia

Ana Guerrero and her Love Story for Education

After a childhood in the ranches of California, we talk to Mexican-born Ana Guerrero about her academic career and the importance of higher ed for Latinos

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Every summer, Ana Guerrero’s father assigned her to read and write in Spanish, which irritated her because what kid wants to study on holidays? What she didn’t understand at that time was that Isaías Guerrero had a specific mission: that his daughter would keep her Spanish even though she lived in the United States.

Patricia Guerrero, her mother, did something very similar during the summer. After a long day working as a maid, she used to take Ana to the libraries to pick out a book to read. Patricia wanted her daughter to understand early on the value of education through reading, as well as keeping her busy, because on the ranch where they lived there was not much to do, especially when it came to keeping an elementary school child entertained.

“My dad taught us to read and write in Spanish since we were kids because he knew we were not going to learn our language at school. He took the time and sat us down to write, and we were very upset. We didn’t want to study on holidays! But I always knew that I had to go to college (university), because it was the only way to better myself here in this country. Besides, there was a lot of focus on that from my parents, even though they never even went to high school. They wanted another life for us”, said Ana in an interview with AL DÍA. 

Isaías arrived in California more than 30 years ago. He migrated from Mexico City in search of medical options for Ana’s older brother, who was facing health problems. He settled in the city of La Goleta, where years later found a job at Venadito Canyon Ranch to take care of its maintenance. Patricia also worked for the ranch as a maid. For years, the five members of the Guerrero family lived in a trailer located on the ranch grounds.

Her Life in the Ranch

Ana was born in Mexico City and came to the United States when she was just 1 year old. She began elementary school at Vistas de las Cruces School, near Venadito ranch. As she said, many of her classmates were Latin immigrants whose parents worked for ranch owners. At Ana’s home, Spanish was always spoken, while in the classroom everything was in English. So the best way to communicate was, and continues to be, through Spanglish.

“Our parents didn’t speak English, so we had to learn to navigate the two areas of our life (family and school) in different languages. However, we had equal friends who grew up as immigrants, so we spoke a lot of Spanglish. I still use English and Spanish words in the same sentence. I feel like I identify more with Spanglish than just English”, confessed Ana, who is 33.

When she reached 12th grade, she wasn’t sure what to do with her higher education. She had no counseling or support from people close to her with university studies. Nor did she have anyone to advise her on available scholarships and how to apply for them. 

Opportunities came when she began studying at Santa Barbara City College. One day, one of the college counselors asked her a question whose answer would lead her to become the first generation in her family to graduate from college.

“Ana, I want you to go home and ask your dad which college or university he used to hear in Mexico was a good school”. And so she did. Ana got back home and asked her dad what the counselor suggested. His response was: “At that time, I heard a lot about Berkeley”.

Ana managed to gain admission to eight different universities, and graduated with a BA in Sociology from UC Berkeley. When she left she was hungry for knowledge and a desire to help more Latin people like her to become the first in their family to access higher education. “That was the first time I felt I could do something bigger, so that’s how I started to encourage myself to do difficult things and to realize that I can do it”.

The young Mexican also has a master’s degree in Education with an emphasis in Culture and Development from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). There she excelled in conducting a longitudinal research on the developmental narratives of first-generation Latin students’ college and career aspirations and identity development.

The Road to a PhD

Ana never imagined having a PhD; for her it was something unattainable. But when she started working at Santa Barbara City College, where she had previously studied, her supervisor convinced her to begin PhD studies.

During the summer of 2022, Guerrero got her PhD from the Department of Education at the UCSB, where her dad works as a groundskeeper. During the time she was studying there, Ana always stopped by to say hello. Sometimes she took her break while watching him play soccer with his work colleagues... “Seeing my dad there, crouched in the sun working, I said to myself: ‘That’s my dad, this is where I come from’.

On the other hand, Ana Guerrero has criticized the lack of representation of Latinos in college and the challenges Latin women face as they enter a college culture that is completely opposite to their identities. “Being short and ‘morenita’, I often felt underestimated and not taken seriously. I had to learn to be assertive and believe in myself”.

For Guerrero, institutions should focus more their efforts on understanding and listening to Latin students to know what they need, what their experiences are and what is important to them.

FirstGen Resilience

FirstGen Resilience is a project that the recent graduate launched as a result of her experience through her path and journey through higher education. “My process was quite isolated. I had to learn through many challenges and failures”, Ana confessed.

Using her story as motivation to facilitate access to education in the Latin community, the project officially launched a year ago. It offers workshops and mentoring to first-generation Latin students seeking to enter college and graduate school. Dr. Guerrero helps young Latin people apply for college scholarships, how to apply for a letter of recommendation, how to write an email asking your professor for a research opportunity, and also conducts college coaching.

As she points out, “Career preparation for Latinos is critical because our presence in this nation is growing. If we are not prepared for the work market today, as it is changing so fast, we are going to have problems as a nation. We need to pay more attention to the needs of Latin people because there are so many of us and we are going to continue to grow”.

Ana has worked with first-generation students and their families to help them better prepare for and apply to college. She has also been actively involved in Hispanic Serving Institutions initiatives supporting students in transitioning, adjusting and navigating college. As part of these initiatives, Ana also provided transition support for transfer students, specifically at UCSB.

Ana Guerrero

More Women and Latinos with PhD Degrees

Based on the “Who earns a U.S. doctorate?” study by the National Science Foundation Government agency, the number of Hispanics or Latinos receiving a PhD increased 67 % between 2006 and 2016.

As a result, the number of doctorates earned by blacks or African Americans has increased slightly from 6 % in 2006 to 7 % in 2016, while the proportion awarded to Hispanics or Latinos has grown from 5 to 7 %.

Women have earned a slight majority of all PhD awarded to U.S. citizens and permanent residents every year since 2002. They have earned more than 30 % of all PhD awarded to temporary visa holders during that period.

From 1996 to 2006, the proportion of women with PhD degrees rose from 45 to 51 % among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and from 23 to 34 % among women with temporary visas.

Overall, 46 % of all PhD in 2016 were awarded to women.

Recommendations for Students

Before deciding which college to choose, it is important to look at certain aspects of location, climate, and academic offerings. First, ask if you see yourself living there for four years or more. Does the climate of the college suit your needs? Are the clubs at the college interesting for you? Do the courses match your goals? Do you find the faculty and academic staff works interesting? Do you find diversity among the faculty? Is there inclusion of Latin people and Hispanics?

What do you need to apply to college

  • A GPA average of approximately 3.0.
  • 2-3 recommendation letters.
  • Course application completed.
  • Writing samples (e.g. an essay).
  • Remember that each application you send to top universities costs approximately 120 dollars.


 

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