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First-generation graduate will help others reach their dreams in Teach For America program

Marissa Molina is the first FLC student to be accepted into the Teach for America program.
Marissa Molina will work with the Teach for America program after her May graduation.

When Marissa Molina and her parents first moved from Chihuahua, Mexico, to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, the only English she knew was “I don't speak English.” Today, her English is excellent, and in May she will become the first in her family to earn a college degree. She will also be immediately applying her education with Teach For America, a nonprofit that places high-achieving college graduates into low-income communities to teach in challenging environments.

Molina, who will earn her bachelor's degree in Political Science in May, will spend the next two years teaching underprivileged students, before pursuing her long-term goals of attending graduate school and working for educational policy reform in Washington, D.C. <<Read more about Marissa's aspirations in her student blog.>>

“One of the reasons I majored in political science in the first place was because I realized that policy is the way you change things,” she says. “When I looked at teaching and I looked at politics, I asked myself, how can I make something of these two things? And that's when I realized I wanted to focus on educational policy. But more importantly, I realized that I can't do that unless I really understand, hands on, what the educational issues are.”

According to TFA, 16 million poverty stricken children in America are in circumstances that won't give them opportunities for a quality education. Many, however, could achieve at the highest level if given proper guidance. That's why the TFA invests in training leaders to help eliminate educational inequality.

“The communities that TFA works with are communities that don't have funding for teachers, and they aren’t competitive enough to get new, innovative leaders,” says Molina. “TFA is dedicated to finding these leaders right out of college and bringing quality teachers into classrooms and communities that have limited resources.”

Among other attributes, TFA applicants must demonstrate strong leadership skills, superior interpersonal skills, abilities to adapt to change, and excellent critical thinking and organizational skills. But most importantly the program seeks individuals respectful of others' experiences and who are able to work effectively with people from a variety of backgrounds.

For Molina, her Mexican background was one of her key educational hurdles growing up. As a teenage minority student, she often thought she just wanted to be like everyone else around her in her adopted country. This resulted in the loss of her identity and culture, she says.

“It was hard to adjust to a new culture, a new country and a new language,” she says, “but I had some amazing teachers that took me by the hand, and not only helped me a lot after school, but also really believed in me. That was really important.”

Soon after she arrived at FLC, Molina found that same support – and more – at El Centro de Muchos Colores, the college's student-driven Hispanic culture center. “When I came to Fort Lewis and El Centro, I really learned to embrace my identity as a Hispanic student and as a native Spanish speaker. And that really helped me persevere as a first generation student,” she says.

“The more I worked with students, though, the more I also realized how much I liked it, and how passionate I really was about educational issues in the U.S.,” she explains. “So when a friend of mine told me about TFA and I did some of my own research, I realized the great impact that it had on a lot of communities through working directly with minority students.”

“I think that Fort Lewis helped me realize that I could bring two different things and two different passions together and really make a career out of it,” she says. “I feel proud to represent the Hispanic community, but also the community of Fort Lewis College.”

This story was updated on April 22, 2014, to correct an error.

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