VISTA Opportunity Allows First-Gen Student Chance To Help Others Prepare For Challenges

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We continue our week-long look at the AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers working with Iowa College Aid to help encourage a college-going culture in communities throughout Iowa and increase college enrollment and degree attainment. For Zac Arellano, a VISTA based at Iowa Western Community College working in conjunction with Iowa Campus Compact, being a VISTA offers the opportunity not only to be a source of information for Iowa College Aid’s “3-Step Process,” but allows him to help students overcome the challenges he faced as a first-generation student. Zac shares his thoughts as he begins his year with Iowa Western.

I am absolutely stoked for this opportunity with Iowa College Aid through AmeriCorps. The college process can be EXTREMELY intimidating which is why I am thrilled to be partnering with Iowa College Aid and supporting the 3 step process. For some students it just takes some initiative, for others it takes some reflection, for me it took a combination of time, experience and empowerment.

As a first-generation, queer, student of color there were many obstacles I came in contact with.  I did not understand any part of the college process: I did not know how to apply, where to apply, what I was going to study, what I wanted out of college, or where to go to find those answers. I remember my classmates discussing “good schools” but I never knew what that meant. I got in to one of the “good schools” near home but I wasn’t really happy. After attending that University for two semesters I realized it was time to branch out; I decided it was finally time to begin my own college search.

The process of transferring led me to develop personally, academically, and even professionally. I didn’t have any connection to the area or my new University. This unfamiliarity provided plenty opportunities for discovery.  It also allowed me to learn how to be my own best advocate and to pass my knowledge along to others.  I am particularly excited about the 3 step process Iowa College Aid promotes because it means I will be able to help students like myself.

Though I am still pretty “green” at Iowa Western I feel like this is going to be an excellent fit for me. Throughout my undergrad I developed a passion for helping fellow students out. I am so excited for what this next year will bring and I cannot wait to continue on into a career in Higher Education.


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