A family that goes to college together, 
gains knowledge together

Nursing student Tiffany Armijo poses for a portrait on The University of New Mexico-Gallup campus Nov. 18.

A family that goes to college together, gains knowledge together

Categories: Students   Faculty   Staff   Community  

By Richard Reyes | Monday, Nov. 28, 2022

UNM-Gallup student and siblings follow in the footsteps of their first-generation parents

GALLUP, N.M. ― When Tiffany Armijo was young, she and her four younger siblings would stay at the old daycare on The University of New Mexico-Gallup campus while their parents took classes. Now, at the age of 22, Armijo is back on campus with her siblings, but this time as students themselves.

The Armijo family story is a unique one. Both Armijo’s parents wanted to go to school to study nursing and both were first-generation college students, meaning they were the first in their families to go to college.

However, it was a challenge for Armijo’s mother to focus on classes while also being a full-time mom to five children. Meanwhile, Armijo’s father was working two part-time jobs to support the family.

Eventually, when the kids were older and Armijo was in high school, both parents went back to school and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in nursing. Now, they both work as nurses at a local hospital in Gallup.

“Seeing their struggles inspired me to go to college, but not just any college,” Armijo said. “I wanted to go to the same college as my parents. There was no other school I wanted to go to.”

Because of the timing of her parents’ graduations, Armijo is also considered a first-generation college student herself.

Nursing student Tiffany Armijo takes notes during a Human Anatomy and Physiology I lab in Calvin Hall Center on The University of New Mexico-Gallup campus Nov. 9.

Nursing student Tiffany Armijo takes notes during a Human Anatomy and Physiology I lab in Calvin Hall Center on The University of New Mexico-Gallup campus Nov. 9.

Armijo joined about 30 UNM-Gallup students, faculty and staff Nov. 8 to commemorate First Generation College Celebration Day. The day celebrates students who are the first in their families to attend college.

It is estimated that 60-70% of students on campus are first-generation college students, according to Kimimila Simms, the program director for TRIO Student Support Services at UNM-Gallup.

“It is important to celebrate our first-generation students because it is vital to acknowledge and support students to bridge that opportunity gap and create equity for students to obtain a college degree,” Simms said.

Armijo feels that the fact her parents went to college is trickling down to benefit herself and her siblings. She said her parents encouraged them to attend UNM-Gallup because they were familiar with the programs and services and knew it was a good school based on their personal experiences.

Having stayed at the old daycare on campus and watched her parents succeed at UNM-Gallup, Armijo said it was cool to now attend the branch campus as a student herself.

“That was a big motivation for me,” she said. “I’ve seen it and I know what it could do for a person.”

Two of Armijo’s siblings are UNM-Gallup students alongside her, while the other two siblings are enrolled in McKinley Academy, a college and careers program provided by Gallup-McKinley County Schools in partnership with UNM-Gallup.

McKinley Academy has offices and classes on the UNM-Gallup campus, allowing high school students to enroll in college classes while working toward their diploma. That makes it possible for students to earn a certificate or associate degree by the time they graduate from high school.

“In our house, an education is pretty important,” Armijo said. “You need an education. My parents went back to get their degrees and also told us we don't have to stop where we're at. We can keep going to get as far as we can.”

Like her parents, Armijo is working toward a Bachelor of Science in nursing.

She expects to graduate in the fall of 2025. After that, she wants to work as a nurse in Gallup to gain experience. Then, she may consider going further with her higher education or venturing elsewhere for employment.

“I always wanted to push myself and see how far I can go, but baby steps, right?” she said.

Armijo said she has enjoyed her experience at UNM-Gallup so far and, for the first time in her life, actually enjoys school because of the supportive staff and the services available to her through the TRIO Student Support Services program.

She liked the atmosphere at TRIO so much that she applied for a work study job and now works as an office assistant for the program.

“I love it,” Armijo said. “I’ve always been a shy person, but after seeing how the staff are, it allowed me to open up and express myself more.”

Armijo works 28 hours a week while also handling a full-time class load of 12 credit hours. She said she prefers in-person classes and appreciates the extra help from instructors who are willing to meet and work with her outside of class hours.

“The work itself, it is hard, but it doesn’t feel like something I can’t do,” she said. “All the support I get with teachers and the TRIO staff, I feel like I have the resources I need to do well in those classes.”

Simms said TRIO programs such as Upward Bound and Student Support Services provide intentional and meaningful assistance in college guidance at UNM-Gallup.

She added that Academic Affairs, the Financial Aid Office, the Zollinger Library, and the Center for Academic Learning also provide key support to first-generation students at UNM-Gallup.

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