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Karen Fierro Ruiz, '17, knows what it takes to finish first. The political science major from Sumner, Wash., is the first person in her family to earn a four-year college degree. Here, Fierro Ruiz discusses her experience at Whitworth.

"As an immigrant to the United States, I wanted to go to college to gain the skills to navigate the professional world in this country. I chose Whitworth because they gave me the best financial aid and because of the Act Six scholarship. I stayed because I felt academically challenged and I recognized that I was being prepared for post-college life.

The first challenge I encountered was the distance from home. My family lives about five hours away and I was the first one in my extended family to move away. I also encountered difficulty adjusting to the culture of the school. Luckily, I was placed with an amazing freshman roommate who helped me navigate through Whitworth that first year. The most dramatic challenge has been figuring out what my next steps will be after college. I intend to go into the law; however, I have little experience in the field and no one in my family has faced these same decisions.

My greatest academic support has come from Kathy Lee, my advisor in the political science department. She has been instrumental because of her knowledge of the career I will be entering. The Act Six program has also been an instrumental part of my transition.

The most memorable college memories I have made are with my roommates. I'm grateful to have been paired with people who became my best friends and with whom I shared many new experiences.

I am currently applying for legal-assistant jobs in the Seattle area. My long-term plan is to go to law school and become a lawyer. I want to help women and children navigate through the legal system."

Nearly 30 percent of Whitworth's 2016 freshman class is "first-gen" – neither parent has earned a baccalaureate degree. In 2016-17 the Whitworth Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion launched the BUCS Mentoring Program and the Trailblazer Project, which help support Whitworth's first-generation students.