Cynthia L. Alvarez, Ph.D.

Assistant Director, Student Success at California State University, Office of the Chancellor
B.A. Chicana/o Studies & Women’s Studies
M.A. Higher Education
Ph.D. Higher Education

What did it mean to you to become the first of your family to earn a degree?
As is the case with many of us who share in the first-gen college student identity, I recognized from a very young time in my life that one of my parents’ goals was to ensure I attended and graduated from college. To graduate—and not just once, but three times—brings a sense of accomplishment and peace because I know that through my achievements, I was able to realize my parents’ dream.

Why was earning a degree important to you?
For many generations, it was extremely hard and sometimes nearly impossible for Latinx communities to access adequate education in the U.S., let alone to enter the higher education system and earn a bachelor’s degree. Earning my degrees not only made my parents’ dream come true, but also honored the relentless work many people have done to ensure I had the opportunity to be a college graduate.

What was the most challenging aspect?
My only knowledge of college was what I’d seen on TV and in movies—which mainly focuses on the social aspects—so I was constantly challenged to think on my toes and figure out what I had to do next in order to keep on track for graduation and my post-graduation goals. That said, I had the extreme fortune of being supported by so many around me, which included my family and the support programs accessible to me. My mentors, composed of professors and staff, lovingly pushed me to be fearless and just go for it, especially when impostor syndrome showed up.

How have you used your degrees to become a leader in your community?
My mind was blown when I realized the legitimacy college degrees bring you. As soon as I was able to, I began doing college-going workshops for parents across the Greater Los Angeles area and worked with the Riverside County Office of Education to deliver workshops for migrant parents. I have also made sure to be an advocate for first-gen students in every position I’ve had because I know the decisions I take part in making can have a positive impact on students with my shared experience.