Breaking the generational cycle of 'You can't do it'

About 30 of The University of New Mexico-Gallup's first-generation students, faculty and staff pose for a group photo on the stairs inside the Student Services and Technology Center on campus Nov. 8 in celebration of First-Generation College Celebration Day. 

Breaking the generational cycle of 'You can't do it'

Categories: Students   Faculty   Staff   Community  

By Richard Reyes | Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022

First-generation UNM-Gallup student figures out what’s best for herself with support of TRIO/SSS

GALLUP, N.M. — Mallory Montaño's parents did not complete college, but education was still a priority in the family. However, it wasn’t until Montaño realized education was a priority to herself that she enrolled at The University of New Mexico-Gallup, becoming a first-generation college student.

Montaño, who is originally from Rock Springs and currently lives in Thoreau, graduated from Miyamura High School in Gallup in 2021 after bouncing around between Miyamura and McKinley Academy. Going back and forth between schools was a confusing time for her because she was still figuring out what she wanted to do with her life.

"When others have their whole plan ready to go, it's really intimidating," she said. “I had to take that time for myself to figure out what I wanted.”

Montaño took a gap semester off to work and weigh all her options. She said she struggles with depression and anxiety though, and she hit a rough patch during that time.

“I hit rock bottom,” she said. “From that point on, I really wanted to do whatever it is that makes me really happy. At that point, there’s nothing you can really do but do what it is that you want for yourself.”

Now, Montaño is a sophomore at UNM-Gallup, working toward an associate degree in business administration. She said she chose the branch campus because of convenience — it’s close to home and she did not have to change her life too much in order to stick with school.

She also works as an office assistant in the TRIO Student Support Services office at UNM-Gallup. She helps with social media content too.

She said the support system at UNM-Gallup, and TRIO/SSS specifically, helped encourage her to pursue what she truly wants. She said TRIO/SSS helped change her outlook and gave her a step-by-step plan on how to achieve her dreams.

“That was something I was lacking for a long time,” she said. “It was always a goal of mine to go to college and get my degree, and right now it feels like a goal that’s reachable. I haven’t felt that in a while.”

TRIO/SSS also helped her develop a transfer plan by identifying the top three colleges she wanted to attend and the kind of careers she wanted to get into.

With the support of that plan, Montaño decided she wants to make a career of social media management and hopes to continue her education at UNM in Albuquerque or the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona.

Because Montaño is a first-generation college student, the support of TRIO/SSS was critical for her.

“I feel like without that college experience from my parents, I was kind of figuring everything out on my own and going about my life post-graduation through trial and error and really having to take that big step and trying to just lay everything out and figure out which direction I wanted to go in,” she said.

There are different definitions for a first-generation college student, but it is typically defined as a person whose parents did not complete a four-year college or university degree.

Montaño’s mother attended college, but after having kids she never went back to finish her degree.

First-generation college students face unique challenges. According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, first-gen students have fewer financial resources, pursue college-level education at lower rates and attain four-year degrees at lower rates compared to their peers.

“Addressing first-generation success has intergenerational impact, as successful college completion is a significant predictor of education, workforce and life success for the families of graduates,” the Center for First-Generation Student Success states on its website.

Montaño hopes that by earning a degree she can set the tone not only for her own future but for future generations of her family. She hopes to be a role model for others so they have someone in their close circle who has been through the college experience before.

“I kind of lacked that a little bit,” she said. “So being able to provide that for someone else in the future was really important for me, breaking those generational cycles of feeling like, ‘You can’t do it.’”

For more information about the TRIO Student Support Services program, please visit

For more information about the UNM First Gen Proud program, please visit

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