Carnegie Mellon University
November 05, 2021

Guerrero Adds to Family Legacy for First Generation Students

By Heidi Opdyke

Abby Simmons
  • Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • 412-268-6094

Growing up in New York City, Arianna Garcia Guerrero and her sister helped their mother translate English into Spanish in order to explain academic and other opportunities for the family.

Today, Guerrero continues to communicate and share educational opportunities for others as president of First Together, Carnegie Mellon University's student organization that supports students, like Guerrero, who are the first generation in their family to go to college or whose parents received an associate degree or attended a 4-year college/university but did not graduate.

"There are so many unknowns and things you don't understand that could facilitate your experience as a first-generation college student," Guerrero said. "Having a community that relates to those experiences makes a difference. I want people to see the pride in being first-generation and give them a family to turn to when they need resources."

Guerrero, a junior studying international relations and politics with a minor in cybersecurity, was inspired by her sister, Graciela Garcia, who co-founded First Together and graduated from CMU in 2019 with a bachelor's degree in information systems.

"It was important for me to amplify the first-gen experience while also equipping new students with a community and the resources that could help set them up for even more success," said Garcia, who now works at Apple. "Joining a university where you know the majority of the student body does not share the same first-gen identity can be very daunting, but hopefully, with First Together it makes it a bit easier."

Graciella Garcia graduated in 2019 from CMU's Information Systems program before starting her career at Apple. At CMU, Garcia helped found First Together, a student organization dedicated to supporting fellow first generation students on their college journey.

M. Shernell Smith is the associate dean and executive director of CMU's Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion. Garcia was involved in the center's opening in 2017, and it was through her work as a student ambassador that Smith was introduced to Guerrero.

"Their entire family is one of these Tartan legacies whose story is tied to the heart of the center and our work," Smith said. "It was evident early on that Arianna — just like her sister — was committed to ensuring that the voices of first-generation students are valued, shared and uplifted."

Smith called the sisters highly motivated.

"In many ways there's an independence about them that their mother instilled, which is part of the tenacity needed to navigate systems not only for themselves but also allows them to remove barriers for others," Smith said. "They create legacy for themselves but also a sense of 'la familia' for the broader community sharing the first-generation experience."

Smith said that while Guerrero builds on the groundwork and legacy her sister began at CMU, she does so with her own vision and a heart full of empathy.

"Arianna embodies the values of Carnegie Mellon and carries them forth in everything that she does," Smith said.

As president of First Together, Guerrero is working to build a mentorship network to help incoming students transition to college; organizes community events and publishes weekly newsletters with resources from a variety of campus organizations.

Her student outreach goes beyond First Together. She is also a Tartan Scholars ambassador and mentors first-year students who are academically high-achieving and come from low-income backgrounds.

"There's a lot of intersectionality between the two," Guerrero said. "First Together ties into that work and creates partnerships and a support network across both areas. Both groups need help navigating resources at CMU, connecting with faculty and staff and dealing with the same feelings of impostor syndrome."

Guerrero said she also dealt with impostor syndrome, but her gift of communication has helped her navigate it.

She speaks English, French, Georgian, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Her interest in languages drew her to major in international relations. Her skills were useful during a Summer Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship, where she translated documents used for research by Dani Nedal, a lecturer in CMU's Institute for Politics and Strategy.

"Arianna is eager to learn and embraces new challenges," Nedal said. "Not only does she keep adding new languages to her repertoire, she also is constantly venturing outside her comfort zone to learn new skills, research new topics and pursue new work experiences, making the most of the resources CMU has to offer."

Her abilities and research experience helped her land an internship with the American Foreign Policy Council while she was part of the Washington Semester Program, which allows CMU undergraduates to live, learn and intern in the nation's capital. She earned a Friedman Internship award to help defray costs while living there.

Nedal added that her efforts at making college experiences more equitable and accessible for first-generation students and other underrepresented groups speaks to her broader commitment to use her skills and opportunities not just to advance her own career, but also to give back to the community.

"Everyone can learn a lot from Arianna's example," he said.

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