Wichita State News
Photo: David Dinell
Ana Lazarin came to the United States from Mexico when she wsa 13. Now she's a graduate student earning her master's at Wichita State.

Scholarships help first generation student climb academic ladder

Thursday, April 23, 2009

When Ana Lazarin came to the United States from Mexico, she was a frightened 13-year-old who couldn’t speak English.

By the end of her first year of school in Ulysses, Kan., she had a 3.8 GPA. In December 2008, she earned her bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Wichita State University.

Today, she continues at WSU working on her master’s degree in counseling.

Alicia Martinez Newell
Alicia Martinez Newell
“I remember her being a little shy and reserved,” said Alicia Martinez Newell, program coordinator for WSU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. “But [I] saw a light in her and knew that this young woman was going to go far in life no matter where she went.”

Lazarin now works within the College of Engineering as the director of programs to broaden participation in engineering.

She’s been in that position since July and aiming to recruit minority students into the engineering program. She arranges campus visits and tours, as well as off-campus activities at local schools.

“I really love what I’ve been doing,” she said. “It’s rewarding when students say they are touched just by my story.”

Lazarin’s story begins in Mexico. She said her family didn’t have much money, so her dad and brothers spent a lot of time in the United States working as farmers trying to do better for the family.

She stayed behind with her mother and grandmother. It was tough going in both places. Her parents didn’t have an education, so they had to work harder to provide for their family. Her two brothers dropped out of school to earn extra money.

While the men provided financial support, it was Lazarin’s grandmother who provided the inspiration.

“She had huge expectations of me,” Lazarin said. “She would always tell me that I was going to be someone in life.”

Lazarin said it was that encouragement that kept her from ever wanting to quit school.

It also was that encouragement that made it so difficult for her to leave her grandmother behind when Lazarin and her mother joined the rest of their family in the United States.

“Leaving my grandma behind was so sad for me,” she said. “I promised her that one day I would come back to Mexico and bring her my college diploma.”

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

A year after Lazarin left Mexico, her grandmother started to succumb to Alzheimer’s and died a few years later. Lazarin couldn’t return for a visit or even for her funeral.

She wasn’t a U.S. citizen and feared not being allowed back into the country.

“For me, that was the hardest thing,” she said. “It inspired me even more to finish my college degree.”

Now, she has her education and citizenship.

Since Lazarin was an immigrant student, she couldn’t apply for financial aid the way many traditional students do. She wasn’t eligible for federal grants or student loans, but because of her good grades, community service and leadership involvement, she was the recipient of several scholarships.

“Ana has a gentle way of prodding and encouraging that brings out the best effort of that person,” said Newell. “She is a natural leader with a quiet strength.”

“I was blessed with scholarships and people that believed in me,” Lazarin said.

Those scholarships and additional help from her family paid the way through her undergraduate education. After she completes her master’s degree, she plans on returning the generosity by helping her family.

“My parents have always told me that they’re proud of me and support me in anything I want to do,” she said. “I want them to think all the sacrifices of coming to the United States were worth it.”

Even though Lazarin has faced many obstacles for a 23-year-old, she remains positive and cheerful about her future and even her past.

She began to laugh as she started to tell a story about a time when she was a waitress in high school. She said her English was improving, but it still wasn’t good. She knew the words on the menu. She could take the customers’ orders.

Then one day a customer asked her for some tap water.

She didn’t understand what he wanted, so she asked him to repeat it. He told her again he wanted tap water. Then Lazarin decided that if she didn’t recognize the term, it wasn’t on the menu, so the restaurant must not serve it.

She told the customer they didn’t have tap water.

“I was so embarrassed,” she said.

But she just chalks it up to one of many lessons she’s learned since coming to the United States.

“We just have to go through some embarrassing moments and difficult times,” Lazarin said. “But here we are.”

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Created on Thursday, April 23, 2009; Last modified on Thursday, April 23, 2009