Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: First-generational Michigan Technological University students share their experience

Hispanic Heritage Month

HOUGHTON, Mich (WJMN) – Ezequiel Cuellar is a third year mechanical engineering major at Michigan Technological University.

“I’m from a small town in Northern Michigan,” said Cuellar. “About 600 people I think. I like running and baking and hiking a lot.”

Angela Gutierrez is a fourth year sociology major at Michigan Tech.

“I am from a small town in Jalisco, Mexico,” said Gutierrez. “Born and raised there. My dad used to be a seasonal worker so he’d work the summers in Mexico and during the wintertime when there was no construction going on we’d go to Mexico where I went to school there. It was about high school when we finally settled in Detroit, Michigan.”

Both Cuellar and Gutierrez are first generational college students.

“I guess just getting into college itself was a huge accomplishment for me,” said Cuellar. “My mother was a migrant. That’s why we ended up in the small town that we did, it’s a big farm area. My family did not expect any of us to go to college so it was a big deal when any of us got into one, especially a great on like Michigan Tech so that alone is already a huge accomplishment in mine and my family’s eyes.”

“Oldest in my family,” said Gutierrez. “So it’s a big deal in the Latino community, you’re kind of expected to be the role model for your kids. And I say my kids because you grew up helping your mom. You got that big, strong, family bond.”

They haven’t just made it into college, these two also strive to go above and beyond. Both serve on the e-board of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers or SHPE (pronounced ship) which has given them a sense of community.

“One of the reasons Hispanic students are less likely to finish college is because we do have culturally really huge family bonds,” said Cuellar. “So, we’re less likely to travel away from home for college. If we do, we’re more likely to drop out to return home. Find your community. That’s going to be your biggest support system when you don’t have your familia there with you. I don’t think I could have made it through as far as I did now without having SHPE here, without that support from my peers.”

Besides being in SHPE, Cuellar has made the Dean’s list and received scholarships to continue being educated at Michigan Tech.

“Growing up with that kind of struggle, it does give you I’d say a better edge when you’re in college, you already kind of know the ropes and then for me personally being light skinned, I personally face a lot less trouble than some of my peers being Hispanic on campus,” said Cuellar.

Gutierrez recently conducted research through a Michigan Sea Grant project that focused on Stewardship and Governance Partnerships with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.
She’s also a Marine Corps Combat Engineer.

“I grew up struggling,” said Gutierrez. “I mean I don’t use that as like, ‘Oh, pity me,’ but like you’re used to the hard work you know? I’ll do pretty much anything to make sure, to be sure that I’m graduating and do good.”

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