First Gen college grad Jessica Bueno and her mom

An Opportunity to Change My Reality

Jessica Bueno '20, Animal Science 

By Jessica Bueno with Hailey Chatterton

I feel very blessed right now. 

Maybe that’s an unusual statement for 2020, but looking at the bigger picture, I have a lot to be grateful for. Not only did I graduate from my dream college, but I have a new goal and a plan I’m proud of, and I’ve had some memorable experiences along the way. 

My mother immigrated to the United States from Mexico to seek a better life, and although she was often strict, she exemplified the core values of hard work and humility. She was my inspiration to attend college. 

I grew up in Solana Beach, near San Diego. My mother and I struggled with poverty. Her job was demanding, and she would often pick me up late from school or take me with her to work.  I did my homework at the kitchen table while I helped her make dinner.

Little did I know, she was actually implementing a set of skills that would help me succeed as a first-generation college student: a work ethic, an ability to succeed without a lot of advantages, and how to make the most fantastic food.  

She taught me those life skills, but I needed help to get to college. With the tutoring and mentorship of a program called Reality Changers, I was admitted to college at UC Davis. 

UC Davis was always my dream school. I was excited to leave my comfort zone and meet new people, but going off to college was also scary. I had never been alone before, and I was afraid that I would meet the wrong people and miss my mother and my home. All of these fears actually did come true, but I realized that I had the ability to overcome them. I learned that it was okay to be homesick and miss my family, because I knew that I was going to see them again very soon. I made close friends who offered me comfort and advice. 

I knew that if I didn’t face my fears, I would never know the reality of what it is like to attend college and experience a whole new world that I had never been exposed to. 

Baby Goats May Be Cute, but Watch Out When They're Hungry
Jessica bottle-feeding a baby goat
Hard to believe this little guy headbutted me!

Having courage to persist through uncertainty led me to some of my favorite memories and so many fun stories. One of my funniest memories is of getting headbutted by baby goats during an animal science internship. I come from a city background, so I had no knowledge about how these animals are fed. It was all new to me! I was so thrilled to work with them.

Little did I know that they can get aggressive when they are hungry. They will literally headbutt you, even the baby ones, just to get to their pasteurized milk!

It was so cute but also hurt. Still, it was worth it to see them happy with their milk-filled tummies! 

In June 2020, I earned a B.S. in Animal Science and achieved my dream of earning a college degree. I am so thankful that I had the courage to attend college. I was surrounded by close friends and wonderful professors. I also could not have graduated college without the support of my favorite mentor, Animal Science advisor Emma Martinez. She helped me pick out classes and made sure my course load was not overwhelming, and she was always checking in with me about my progress as a student. She also directed me to the right people when I decided that I wanted to go into nursing. Emma saw me go through the highest and lowest points of my college career, and she was not only an advisor to me, but a friend as well. 

First Gen college grad Jessica Bueno in her graduation cap and stoleI am excited about what my future will hold, and I plan to dedicate my life toward helping others as a registered nurse. While I began college thinking that I wanted to be a veterinarian (like half of the students at UC Davis), I’ve realized that I would rather use my empathy, communication skills, and Animal Science background toward a career in nursing. I am also eager to have a family of my own one day, and I hope to pass on the same values to them that my mother shared with me. 

To new UC Davis students, my advice is to be flexible about your career path, take advantage of office hours and academic advising, and never be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. My college journey was never easy, but I was determined to persist and make my mother proud. Hard work and diligence drove  me to complete my college journey, but  having that early push from my mother was what helped me get here in the first place. 

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