Ortega fosters community, supports first-gen students

· 4 min read

Ortega fosters community, supports first-gen students

Carlos Ortega smiles for a photo in a classroom on campus
Carlos Ortega smiles for a photo in a classroom on campus.

Editor’s Note — This is part of a weekly student conversation series highlighted as part of Hispanic Heritage Month on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Medium page. The series will feature students who are making impacts on campus and beyond. This week, hear from Carlos Ortega, secondary education social sciences major from Lincoln, Nebraska, is taking advantage of opportunities on campus. He is supporting fellow first-gen students, fostering community and continuing his goal to positively impact as many people as possible.

Talk about your experience as a first-generation student.

My parents immigrated from Guatemala in the late ’90s. My dad did not go to college, and my mom’s education ended in elementary school, so I did not know much about college before actually attending it. The only information that I had directly available to me in high school was when college recruiters came to my school. Once here, it took me a while to adjust. I have three younger sisters and a mother who does not fluently speak English, so I was a huge help to her in high school. I knew coming to college that that help would be limited, and it took me a while to get used to. On the other hand, I know that my sisters see me as a role model and I want to make sure that I am a good example for them to follow.

You are part of the second cohort of the Teacher Scholars Academy. What has that experience been like?

Being in the second cohort of the Teacher Scholars Academy has been a great help in guiding me to a successful career, especially as a first-generation student of color. TSA has connected me to valuable resources and people, especially the TSA coordinator, Braden Foreman-Black. He has been part of the most impactful moments of my college experience, helping me through ups and downs, as well as connecting me to other campus faculty who see the best in me.

You were intentional about restarting the Future Teachers of Color. Talk about that and how it has changed your college experience.

Coming to campus, I knew that I wanted to join a recognized student organization that involved both my culture and career aspirations. When I got here, there was no RSO that fit all of my requirements, but I was connected to Dr. Amanda Morales, who told me that there was an inactive RSO called the Future Teachers of Color. When I looked into it, I got together with a couple of my friends and worked on writing a constitution and establishing it as an active RSO here on campus once more. Being on the executive board of FTOC, I strive to let any current or incoming students know that there are various social and academic aspects of the university designed to help you succeed in your career — all you have to do is reach out!

You served as a New Student Enrollment leader this past summer. Why did you want to apply and what was your favorite part?

Ever since I was a little kid, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher and that I loved helping people. Being a Career Academy ambassador really set me up to love and enjoy being an orientation leader — that is why I applied! My favorite part of being an NSE leader was being able to also be a part of the Spanish program and give that accessibility to families that needed it, especially first-gen families like mine. I loved it so much that I am working with NSE in the 2022–2023 Spanish Language Specialist position.

Is there anything you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?

My whole goal in life is to help as many people as I can through as many outlets as possible. Those outlets are: becoming a teacher, making my own music, being an older brother and hopefully, paving the way for those who share the same intersectionalities as me. Many people have set me up for success, and now I want to be the one who sets other people up for success.

What or who inspires you?

I have two main channels of inspiration, my mom and music. Growing up and realizing all that my single parent sacrificed for me has really opened up my eyes to my own life and the fact that I am in control. Other than that, music helps me through every emotion I feel. I can listen to music, or make music if that is what is going to inspire me to keep moving forward.

What is your advice to other students looking to make an impact on campus?

The singular piece of advice that I have for any current or incoming students who want to make an impact on campus is to get involved. Getting involved branches you out and connects you to many different people on campus who can then help you make that impact that you seek — you just have to take the initiative.

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