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Q&A: Putting Herself First

School of Social Work sophomore discusses the importance of community for First-Gen Longhorns
Gabriella Lopez currently serves as a peer mentor for First-Gen LLC and is a member of Socks for the Sole, Social Work Council and the Fed Up Coalition.
Gabriella Lopez currently serves as a peer mentor for First-Gen LLC and is a member of Socks for the Sole, Social Work Council and the Fed Up Coalition.

Ever since Gabriella Lopez was a young girl, she has always dreamed of becoming the first in her family to earn a college degree from her dream school: The University of Texas at Austin. Now a sophomore in the School of Social Work, Lopez is living the Longhorn life and soaking up every minute of her experience on the Forty Acres.

We caught up with the Galveston, Texas native to learn more about her journey at UT Austin—and how the First-Gen Equity program and the First-Gen Living Learning Community (LLC) are helping her feel more at home on this large campus.

What do you enjoy most about being a UT student?

I have wanted to attend UT Austin since I was six years old, so I think the thing I enjoy most about being here is that I’m able to make this dream come true. I love our school spirit and our ability to showcase it. I also enjoy attending athletic events, listening to our band and getting to see Bevo.

What was a big challenge you had to overcome as a first-gen student?

The biggest challenge I had to overcome as a first-gen student would probably be keeping a schedule. My first semester was rough because I did not have a consistent sleeping schedule and didn’t really make time to take care of myself because I’d be too busy with my courseload. As time went on, I realized that this was not beneficial for my mental health, so I fixed it, but it made for a rocky start to my college experience. I would like to give a shoutout to Kayleigh and Alicia for being the best supporters and a shoulder to lean on whenever I’m in need.

How do you benefit from UT’s First-Gen programs?

The staff in the First-Gen Equity program have always been very friendly and ready to provide help whenever I need it. The First-Gen LLC that I lived in last year made coming into college less frightening. The transition was much easier than I anticipated because they gave me a community and an opportunity to befriend other students much like myself.

Why is it important for first-gen Longhorns to find these communities?

These communities are important because college is already intimidating and overwhelming. I couldn’t even imagine what my first year would’ve been like if I hadn’t been able to live in a community in which people could relate to my situation. It was comforting to know that I had others I could lean on for support and to know that I was not alone in my fears or struggles.

What advice would you give to your fellow first-gen students who are experiencing similar challenges?

I would tell my fellow first-gen students to put themselves first. Your courseload is important, yes, but your mental and physical health are what are going to carry you through your college career. Take time to do things you enjoy and remember that sleep is necessary.

What are your post-graduation goals?

After graduation, I hope to go into a Master of Social Work program and eventually get my Ph.D. in social work. I intend to obtain my license and work with oppressed populations, although I’m not sure which yet. I also have a dream to open a non-profit organization that assists troubled adolescents and a daycare specifically geared toward low-income families in the community.

UT first gen celebration week 2021More About First-Gen Equity

Housed within the Longhorn
Center for Academic Equity, First Gen Equity serves students whose parents or guardians did not receive a four-year degree or higher from a college or university in the United States. With a focus on success—in college and beyond—First Gen Equity provides a community on campus as well as a support network with faculty, staff, alumni and mentors. Throughout the school year, the program provides celebratory events, professional development workshops, resources and more.

Portrait by Abbie Bard