As a first-generation student from an immigrant family, Bryan Chavez didn’t always see college as accessible. But through scholarships from the Nebraska College Preparatory Academy and the support of his loved ones, Chavez will accomplish his goal on Dec. 18 by graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in computer science and mathematics.
“I think graduation is so important to me because my parents never had this opportunity,” Chavez said. “They weren’t able to go past like eighth or ninth grade, and it wasn’t like they had a choice. Even if they wanted to go to school, they had to stop going to school in order to work. And so being the second graduate in my family…I feel like because of them, they gave me the opportunity to do what I want to do and pursue my dreams.”
Chavez first became a part of the NCPA in middle school. The academy is a college access program that mentors and develops first-generation students from high school through to when they finish their University of Nebraska–Lincoln degree. Participants are selected based on their academic abilities and income eligibilities, and receive full scholarships for tuition, books, fees, room and board.
Currently, the program focuses on retaining students from Grand Island Senior High School, Omaha North Magnet High School and Omaha South Magnet High School. Nationally, only 11% of first-generation, low-income students graduate from college. Through Nebraska’s NCPA program, the students’ graduation success rate is 85%.
As a Grand Island Senior High School student, Chavez had already seen his older brother and others succeed in college through NCPA. He saw how involved the academy was, and how every student was tethered together through a shared sense of determination.
“I personally describe it as a second family,” Chavez said.
The program’s hands-on approach showed Chavez that there was support for him at the university. On an even more personal level, it taught him that it was OK to ask for help when times get tough. When he was struggling in classes or grappling with making big decisions, he always knew that he could find his answers somewhere in his community. Whether it was through a study session at a resource center or a friendly face at NCPA, he was able to solve his problems by seeking help.
“If you seek out help, you will eventually find the help that you need,” Chavez said. “And that help is going to go a long way — whether you see that now or later.”
The help Chavez received has made all the difference. As he looks back on the past five years, he can only think of the gratitude he has for the people that helped him get to the graduation stage.
“I’d like to say thank you to NCPA, my family, girlfriend, and supportive friends who were there for me along the way,” Chavez said. “I couldn’t have done it without all of you.”