Maira Gutierrez is a sophomore at Governors State University. A resident of Calumet City, Illinois, she grew up speaking Spanish at home. She began learning English in elementary school, along with the traditional subjects. In middle school, she refined her grasp on the language, and by the time she was in high school, she was the editor-in-chief of her school’s newspaper. Gutierrez has been awarded a Foundation Scholarship and the Latino Scholarship at GSU.
My parents are from an area of Mexico where there was no emphasis on education. My mom didn’t get past high school, and my dad didn’t get past elementary school. I’ve seen the struggles they’ve both had. They came to the U.S. to provide better for me and my five siblings, and education seemed the best way I could better myself and my family.
I didn’t really like school. And in high school, my counselors made college seem intimidating: “You’re not going to get help from your teachers. They’re not going to care about your grades. Your success or failure is going to be all on you.” But at GSU, the classes are small enough that you almost can’t help but get one-on-one time with the professors. And when I go to office hours, my professors are always helpful and friendly. They genuinely care about their students—as students and as people.
Similar to my experience with my professors, I’ve been amazed at how much extra assistance there is outside the classroom and how much people want to help you succeed. The Academic Resource Center has been great.
I was intimidated a bit at first, but you get to know everybody—the faculty, staff, students—there are a lot of connections you can make. And there are so many resources here.
Another thing that’s valuable about GSU, for me, is the location, being close to home. As an older sibling, I have a lot of responsibilities at home and need to be available to help out whenever and however I can. For example, since neither of my parents speak English, I have to be available to help my younger brothers and sisters after school with their homework. I’m glad GSU is where it is, because I can go to school and take care of my family easily.
I share a room with my sister. She loves playing her music loudly, so sometimes I do my homework while I’m still at GSU. I use off-time between classes or if there’s downtime during my work-study job in Financial Aid. There are times when I’ve been at school for 12 hours, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It’s stressful, especially during midterms and finals. You have to prioritize everything. But I’d rather be busy—I always find something to do. I’m not jealous of other students who aren’t as busy. I like it.
I took an accounting class at my high school, and I found out that with accounting, you have to be organized and you have to be very specific, and I like doing that.
As I said, I didn’t like school. But I saw that it was something that’s necessary. I want to be an accountant, so the only way to get that and learn it is through school. I’m going for the CPA. The classes look a little difficult, but I’m up for the challenge. Math is my strongest subject. And not everybody can do it. I know a lot of people who are scared of numbers, but I enjoy it.
I want to open up my own accounting firm one day—but one step at a time. There are a lot of companies out there that will actually train you while you’re in school, and then pay for your schooling, so I’ve been looking into those.
I said “yes” to being interviewed because I want to give my perspective on what it is to be a first-generation college student. A lot of people are afraid of it, so I think my perspective can help a lot of people, some of these upcoming prospective students, to not be so scared about going to college. I say, go for it. You might be scared because you have no idea what to expect, but there are a ton of resources available to help you when you need it. Also, there’s a lot of freedom. You’re not pressured into doing what your dad or mom did at school. It’s your choice. You’re leading, making your own way.