Arts & Sciences

Celebrating first-generation students: senior Ashley Castañeda shares her experience and advice 

National First-Generation College Celebration Week occurs every year around Nov. 8 to acknowledge and elevate first-generation college students and alumni identities and contributions. Nov. 8 was selected as National First-Generation College Celebration Day in honor of the signing of the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965. The act was intended to create greater access to higher education for students from minority and low-income backgrounds.

In addition to creating federal grants and loan programs to help students finance their education, HEA ushered in the Federal TRIO programs, necessary for postsecondary access, retention and completion for potential first-generation college students. 

Honoring its founding mission, Marquette University is committed to increasing access and offering a transformative Catholic, Jesuit education to many first-generation students, who now make up more than 22% (1 in 5) of our undergraduate student population.  

In celebration of National First-Generation College Celebration Week, Marquette Today this week will feature four first-generation students at Marquette, who will share their experience and advice for future students. 

Meet Ashley Castañeda, a senior double majoring in criminology and law studies and Spanish…

Ashley Castañeda’s parents moved to the United States to give her and her siblings the opportunities they never had growing up. Their sacrifice has always been a major motiving factor for Ashley to go to college.  

“My parents always talked about going to college,” Ashley reflects. “It was something they never had the chance to do; therefore, they have pushed me to take advantage of it all.”  

However, even with college readiness support from her high school, she remembers how she still felt uneasy.  

“I was scared. I thought to myself, I’m going to a predominantly white institution, and I don’t know what to expect. It was very difficult mentally and physically to prepare myself for that change, but it was a good challenge,” Ashley says. 

Despite challenges, Ashley’s family is always there to encourage her to keep trying new opportunities.    

“As a first-generation student, I struggle with leaving my family behind to pursue life-changing opportunities,” she said. “Sometimes I feel as if I don’t belong, but I always have my dad to encourage me. He says, ‘Prefiero que te arrepientas de lo que hiciste, y no de lo que no hiciste.’ In English, that means ‘I prefer that you regret what you did, not what you did not do.’”  

As a result of her family’s support, she takes on any opportunity she can at Marquette and has grown a lot from it.  

“When I first came to college, I was very shy. Marquette has opened up opportunities, such as an internship on Capitol Hill and study abroad. Earlier in my college career, I wouldn’t have taken advantage of these opportunities, but I have allowed myself to open up,” Ashley says. 

She hopes her college experience will allow her to become a resource for more members of her family to go to college and to one day support her parents who have given her so much. 

“I hope having this degree means that, in the future, my parents won’t have to work anymore. I hope that in the future I’m able to financially support them, and take them to places they’ve always dreamed of,” Ashley says. “Those are the little dreams I have for my family.” 

Her advice to first-generation students: don’t be scared to try new things. 

“If you don’t apply, if you don’t put yourself out there, you never know what the outcome is going to be,” Ashley says. “If what you tried is not for you, then it’s not for you, but at least you know that you tried and you gave it your all, and you gave yourself the opportunity to take on a new challenge.” 

Marquette has many on-campus resources for student success. For resources specific to first-generation students, see the first-generation college students resource list