Inspiration

First Generation Student Thrives With Personalized Education

Berkeley senior Rita Guo reflects on the importance of investing in education and the struggles of students who do not receive support.

Rita_Guo_First_Generation_Student_profileWhen Rita Guo left Connecticut for New York after her freshman year of high school, she realized how lucky she had been. “The school was invested in individual students,” she recalls about her education. “The programs were intended to push students to set their own goals and achieve their individual potential.”

Upon moving to New York for her sophomore year, Rita encountered a vastly different landscape. She soon became acutely aware of the separate challenges students faced without the guidance she was accustomed to. A lack of funding and strict regulations were just a few of the factors Rita believes influenced this gap in accessibility. She felt like one of the fortunate students, having entered with a stronger foundation.

As a first generation student, Rita is aware that her parents immigrated here in large part to provide her with the opportunities unavailable to them in their youth. Now at UC Berkeley, she is thankful for her diverse academic and personal experiences–both the advantages she’s thrived under and the challenges she’s learned from.

We sat down with Rita to find out more about these experiences and the ways they’ve influenced her evolution.

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What did you find when you first arrived at school in New York?
The way the public school system works is that you attend where your residence is until 7th grade. In 8th grade you can test into specialized high schools, which are prestigious and known for elevating students to top-notch schools. I found that a large number of students weren’t able to attend those special schools for several reasons: lack of focus on education and career, difficult commutes, social capital, and more. I think at that point I started to understand what factors caused disproportionality in certain students attending quality schools, and began to think of ways to empower other students. I was a sophomore in high school and genuinely dismayed about how the city school system and zoning worked, and how such a large number of students didn’t have the proper support from a young age.

In the nature of educational districts, there’s a gap in what resources are provided to students across schools and towns. I definitely saw that firsthand in high school, and that carries on throughout college. Having accessible resources makes all the difference, and I think it can begin to bridge the gap between students. The next step depends on students devoting the necessary time towards studying and mastering the material. Course Hero has been great in the sense that it’s kind of equalizing the playing field and making as much available to the public as possible.

What challenges did you face upon arriving at college?
I definitely knew I wanted to study economics since taking college courses in high school, but I became conflicted with where I wanted to lead my life based on students around me. It’s definitely easy to get caught up in the competition and overall focus on certain career paths, and believe that’s what you want for your future as well.

I’d say around my second year I was trying to find my calling while juggling grades and various internships and opportunities. I faced rejection and also academic and professional obstacles, but I took something from each experience and found ways to apply what I had learned to the next challenge. I can say with confidence that is the key to my last three years at Berkeley: Get up from every instance you considered a failure. Once you’ve acknowledged that failure is normal and to be expected, you shift your mentality and realize that these are all only opportunities for you to grow. You’re getting closer to what you truly want to do and will excel at.

How has your experience as a first generation college student shaped you?
For most first generation college students, things simply aren’t handed to you, and there’s a lot to be learned along the way. I have a lot of gratitude because my parents were and are continually invested in my education above all else. When I tell people I go to Berkeley, the reaction is often, “Wow! Great job!” but I don’t necessarily take credit for that yet. I owe it to my parents that I’m even here. I haven’t personally done enough to necessarily deserve that immediate reaction, but it’s only part of the whole journey. There’s so much more to do to empower others that I feel like I haven’t even gotten started.

Has your time at Berkeley helped shape your goals?
I have a diverse set of interests, and living in Berkeley and the Bay Area has allowed me to explore these avenues in depth. I know that one thing I want to do at some point is empower young women, especially those who want to work in STEM. When I was younger, I had an intense curiosity for STEM and wanted to pursue bio-med and various STEM fields, but soon enough I became intimidated both by self selection out of these roles, and also a societal belief that I was not as capable as my male counterparts. I want to make that sure in the future, these younger girls know from an early age that they are extremely capable of what they set their mind to.

Coming to a community like Berkeley, I’m extremely lucky in the sense that professors and peers are constantly pushing us to step out of our comfort zones and take classes that we wouldn’t normally take, especially in areas that we consider ourselves to be weak. I think that mindset isn’t always embraced in educational communities, and I’ve learned that this hunger for knowledge is crucial to instill in students at a young age. I want to make sure I have an impact in that sense on education in the future.

I’m joining FEMTech this semester, which focuses on empowering women to break into STEM, whether it’s through speaker panels and corporate events, mentorships, volunteer work, or more. I’m planning to make my mark in the landscape soon, and uplift not only women but also diverse groups to find opportunities that will prepare them for careers in tech.

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Rita plans to pursue product management in the future, and bridge business development, technology, and user experience in her role. Above all else, her focus is impact, and providing sustainable value to others in her career. Having experienced firsthand the benefits of being nurtured, and having witnessed challenges faced by those who may not be, it’s clear that Rita’s passion for empowering others will factor prominently into her post-graduate endeavors.

About the author

Alex Witkowski

Alex is a former high school English teacher and non-profit Community Manager who's now living the dream building Community with Course Hero. Beyond the walls of the office you can find him listening to music, seeing live music, seeking out new music, writing about music, composing music, and defending his obsession with music.

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