Fostering Pride of Place for First-Generation Students

Interview with Ricky Galvan at Chico State

June 2, 2023 |
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Ricky with his third REACH group and faculty mentor, Ann Schulte, volunteering at a local shelter

Enrique (Ricky) Galvan strongly believes that higher education empowers the next generation of young people, and he has made it his life’s passion to encourage rural students to pursue this avenue. As a student success specialist at the newly renamed REACH Student Success Center at California State University-Chico, Ricky directly supports students with class selection, financial aid, and even personal issues.

Growing up in a first-generation American household, Ricky learned early on that community and family are above everything else.

“With my parents coming from Mexico, pride and community and family mean the world. That's held above everything, the most high. To me, community are those who are there for you through the good and the bad times. I always feel like I'm from the area. I rep it hard! This is my community, you know, this is where I grew up. Community means being selfless, trying to give back as much as you can.”

Ricky specifically emphasizes the value of having pride in your community, your background, and your place:

“Pride, pride, pride. Coming from a Mexican immigrant kind of background, every time I meet people who also have very close origins to Mexico, the first thing they always ask me is, ‘Where are your parents from?’ My mom's from Oaxaca and my stepdad's from Veracruz, and well, I'm from Gridley, California. [laugh] No one knew where that was; I just have that love and that pride for where I come from, you know? In California you can find quite a bit of Mexican-Americans around. I'm the Mexican kid from California; that's where I grew up. I'm a Gridley Bulldog, you know? That's me. I do think it's positive to have pride in where you're from and pride in where you grew up, pride in something that you help to work, grow, develop, and try and make a positive image about.”

“You may come from a small town, you may have this strong, strong pride about where you come from, but you gotta make sure it's constructive.”

Ricky strongly believes in showing students from rural communities the opportunities afforded to them through higher education, and he emphasizes what can be accomplished close to home at Chico. He know it is important to empower rural students to succeed, regardless of their pathway forward, by getting to speak with them face-to-face:

“It's kind of embarrassing to say, but I keep it real - I didn't know that Chico had a college until I was in high school. Once I came to school and I realized how empowering it is to have an education, I fell in love with it. I think being able to get in front of students and say, hey, there's nothing negative at all with staying local. If you do come from a lower income background, if you do come from a small, small community, if you do come as a first generation student, you can make it. You can make it through and you can achieve everything you want to do while still keeping it local and rural.”

Ricky with his second REACH group, rooting for their team at a Chico State basketball game
Ricky with his second REACH group, rooting for their team at a Chico State basketball game

Having been that first-generation, rural student himself, Ricky also recognizes that the transition to a college campus can be difficult, particularly when it comes to breaking stereotypes:

“I know how difficult it can be sometimes to be from a small, rural town, and people may have different kinds of political views than you or may be close-minded. Some of what they say can affect my family and the way we get perceived, coming from an immigrant background. I feel like it's my responsibility to try and show people that there's another way of doing things. Even if you don't come from the stereotypical picture of what it means to be a college student, or a successful student, or a good parent, or whatever it may be, you can do it. If you walk and talk and look like me, there's opportunity for you in the area, and you don't have to go away. You can stay here and you can help to build rural opportunities amongst others who want to stay too.”

Gary McMahon opened the Student Success Center when he saw that students of color, low-income students, and other underserved communities would benefit from the support. The Center’s REACH Program specifically works to ensure success for first-generation students throughout their first year of college. Students are paired with faculty mentors, attend specialized courses preparing them for college life, and gather for social events to build friendships with one another:

“People can just hop in, chit chat, whatever they want to talk about, and then go on with their day. I think that's one of the most special things about the center, is that we have a space on campus and we have time for those casual and informal conversations. You're able to build those connections and bonds, and that trust and that rapport is so, so crucial for us.”

Ricky’s work at the Center is focused on the initial outreach to students as well as continued support if they decide to attend Chico:

“I keep in touch with them and say, hey, I appreciate you coming to choose Chico. I appreciate you having follow up questions. If you join the REACH program, we're gonna have those mentors who look like you, walk like you, talk like you, know where you come from. They're specially trained to work within diverse groups, being sensitive to each person's story. I support students on a drop-in appointment basis to talk about picking classes, financial aid, going through a breakup, where to find good burritos in town, all those different community building things, fostering a sense of belonging here on campus within our center. Then, once you graduate, making sure you are ready for the job market and you feel empowered to give back to your hometown wherever that may be.”

“There's nothing negative at all with staying local. You can make it through and you can achieve everything you want to do while still keeping it local and rural.”

While the REACH program prepares students to give back once they graduate, the Center also places an emphasis on reaching back into the home communities of its students while they are still in college:

“Each of the REACH groups have to find some way to give back to the community. I've done Earth Day cleanups, picking up a park around the area for Earth Day. Other people have gone to the local Humane Society and helped to take care of the dogs, take them on walks and everything. Some folks, if they have a faculty mentor with some kind of ties to education, will engage some of the local schools in their hometowns. I know Anne Schulte [Director of Civic Engagement and rural education scholar at Chico] is a big proponent of that.”

Ricky, his parents, and his brother posing at his Chico BA graduation
Ricky, his parents, and his brother posing at his Chico BA graduation

Ricky was a peer mentor with the Center for three years, but he recalled one particular experience with a student and friend that exemplified the value of the work:

“One of my current best friends / someone who was in my first REACH group - seeing him be successful has meant the entire world to me. I remember when he was a first year and he was like, ‘I think I should just move back home.’ I was a junior in college and I was like, ‘It'll get better, I promise you it'll get better.’ Supporting him through his first year and then still keeping that strong relationship, I was there to watch him cross the stage for his bachelor's and then help him with his master's application. He got into the master's program and then he graduated and now I'm able to be a reference for his different positions that he's applying for. I think seeing him grow, develop, mature as a student, as a participant in our Chico community - he has a strong passion to give back to the community - means the world to me. I would definitely say that has been the coolest thing. I know the Center is a special place that can make dreams come true, for sure.”

Ricky acknowledges that biases and preconceived notions can impact the perception of his work, but he continues to emphasize the power of place and positive pride through his own journey through the Center/REACH:

“When people see me and my ups and downs, they're gonna see, ‘Oh yeah, he's someone who's Mexican American or Chicano. That's someone who comes from an immigrant family.’ No matter what I do, they're gonna take a look at me, and that reflects on the community. You have to take into account what that means for yourself and for others around you, or for future generations.”

“It's not fair to have that burden on you. There's been times where, to keep it real, I'm the only brown person in the room. I'm the only northern Californian, I'm the only one from a small town, and that can be intimidating. That can be stressful, when it feels like you're not heard. But having that empowerment, where you have this strong, strong pride about where you come from - you gotta make sure it's constructive.”

“I do think it's positive to have pride in where you're from and pride in where you grew up, pride in something that you help to work, grow, develop, and try and make a positive image about.”

Above all, Ricky is proud of his hometown, and reiterates that he has pride in his community:

“I still have that strong sense of pride. That's my home, that's where my friends live, that's where my family lives. And I think telling people that what they're contributing is still very beneficial. That's your home. Treat it with respect. Treat my home with respect.”

For his tireless work to support rural and underrepresented students at Chico, Ricky was recognized through the university’s annual Conversations on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Awards as the 2023 Promising Newcomer Award Recipient. This honor “is presented to an individual whose fresh perspective and energy galvanize campus diversity work and facilitate new approaches to old problems. The award honors the newcomer’s vision and invites a sustained commitment to its realization."

We are grateful to Ricky for sharing his time with us to speak about his experiences helping students find success at Chico. Thank you to our Northern California partners at California State University-Chico for connecting us with Ricky to talk more about how he found pride in his rural place, and build that pride in other young people through his work at the Center.

Ricky as a kid, hanging out at a park in Gridley
Ricky as a kid, hanging out at a park in Gridley
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