Friday, March 20, 2020

Alyssa Guzman (BA ’18), a graduate student from Lincolnwood, Illinois, in the Master of Arts in Teaching program in secondary English education, shares her first-person insights on navigating higher-education as a first-generation student.

My interest in becoming a teacher happened rather late into my college career. I began my journey at the University of Iowa as an English and journalism double major with the intention of pursuing journalism post college. However, two years into the program, I realized it was not journalism I was passionate about, but rather, the instruction with which I was provided while being involved with journalism in high school.

The extra-curricular opportunities not only presented me with many chances to improve my writing and express my ideas, but also with chances to make connections with the wonderful staff at Niles West High School. My senior year of high school made it very clear to me just how much my various teachers cared about my success. They were constantly meeting with me to work on essays, applications, and my personal writing. This helped immensely with the daunting and unfamiliar process of applying for colleges due to being a first-generation college student.

Considering the impact my teachers had on me, it made sense to pursue teaching. It was a decision that I remain confident in and excited about. Now, with an anticipated graduation date of May 2020 from the University of Iowa’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, I hope to use my perspective as a first-generation college student to relate to and empathize with the struggles of students who are not sure where to go to for answers to their questions, or who may not even know what their questions may be.

The University of Iowa provides its students with an impressive amount of resources for first-generation college students. There are various events coordinated by the supportive staff that are always willing to speak with students and come up with solutions to issues that some may be facing.

Thanks to my coursework and wonderful and supportive professors and teaching assistants at Iowa, I’ve learned the importance of building relationships, teaching with an open mind, and engaging students in culturally-relevant texts. I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for me due to the exceptional instruction I received both at Niles West High School and the University of Iowa.

Guzman participated in a First-Generation Student panel in fall 2019, hosted in the Baker Teacher Leader Center. The panel was facilitated by UI College of Education Dean Daniel Clay, also a first-generation student. This was one of many activities held during a campus-wide National First-Generation College Celebration Nov. 3-8. The University of Iowa has a strong commitment to first-generation students, who comprise almost 25 percent of all undergraduate students. For more information, visit

Read more from our 2019-2020 alumni magazine