We recently conducted an interview with TIA alumni, Victor Figueroa. Victor graduated from Tucson International Academy-Midvale in May of 2014. Victor’s dream to attend college has become a reality as he prepares to begin his second year at the University of Arizona.
How many years did you attend TIA?
I attended Tucson International Academy since 7th grade, so 6 years in total. Since I was one of the students that was there for a long time, I experienced the expansion of TIA Midvale which allowed me to be involved in the growth and changes. One of the changes I saw was that we went from having only two teachers teaching all the subjects to multiple teachers teaching various subjects.
Have other members of your family attended college?
In my immediate family no one has been able to pursue a higher education before, so I am the first generation to attend college.
To which colleges did you apply and where did you end up deciding to attend college?
When I was in high school I had a very vague idea of college. In my senior year at TIA, thanks to the dual enrollment program they offered, I was able to take classes at Pima Community College. I knew that I wanted to attend and have the full college experience. However, I always thought that it was out of our family’s financial reach. I had heard terrible stories about students that go to college and obtain a degree, but then end up having so much loan debt that they cannot afford to live on their own.
I did not want to end up drowning in debt, so I had to constantly evaluate my goals and my financial status to decide whether college was a viable choice for me. I decided to research schools that were close to home that offered generous scholarships. I found that our very own Northern Arizona University was on the list. Therefore, I decided to apply to NAU.
The problem however is that I am a not a person that likes extremely cold weather or snow in the winter! So while I was happy that NAU accepted me with a very good scholarship, I was not sure that the Flagstaff weather was something I wanted to put up with for the next four years. However, I was relieved that the path to paying for college seemed brighter.
I knew I wanted to stay in Arizona, so I also decided to apply to Arizona State University and University of Arizona. I received acceptance letters from both, although both colleges offered less aid than NAU. After weighing all the information, I chose to attend college at University of Arizona. I chose U of A primarily because their computer science program rated higher than NAU and because I had already started an internship there.
Did you do anything different to prepare the summer prior to starting college?
Since my major is math intensive, I wanted to be more prepared for college level precalculus. Therefore, I decided to rent a trigonometry/precalc book and studied and worked on the questions in the book. Since I was doing an internship with the Center for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN) at the College of Optics, I asked my mentor whenever I had questions or concepts that I did not understand. By taking this initiative, once the semester started I was much more confident about my math skills.
Can you remember your feeling the first few days of college?
The first few days of college were challenging. I can still remember how out of place I felt coming from a small school into a student body of 35,000. At first I was so intimidated I felt like I may never fit in. However, I did not let that bring me down and kept striving. As each day passed I felt like I belonged there more and more.
What have you found to be the biggest difference between high school and college?
I would say that the biggest change between high school and college is the rigor of the work load and the freedom. In college there is no one setting up schedules for you or telling you where to go. Instead you have to decide on what’s best and manage your own time. The freedom that college allowed was a big change. While all that freedom is amazing, with bad judgment and or poor study and planning skills, it can become poison. It is ultimately up to the student if he or she wants to succeed.
Since I chose a college that is close to home, I live off campus with my parents. However, from what I’ve learned, living on campus is a great way to meet new people and make new friends.
What is your major? Minor?
My major is Bachelors of Science in computer science. My minor is Spanish.
What have you found to be the most challenging part of college?
What I have found most challenging about college is learning how to manage my time. Sometimes it feels as if there is no end to the amount of work needed to be completed. It gets even more stressful when there are multiple tests in one day. Thankfully, time management is a learnable skill and I have learned how to manage my time much better now.
What is the best thing about attending college so far?
The connections that you make and the material that you learn. While science and math are very challenging subjects, I also have the general education classes to cushion the rigor. I like the fact that the options to learn whatever you want are limitless.
Have you made a lot of new friends? Where did you meet most of them?
College is about making connections; therefore, making friends is one exciting aspect that every student should look forward to. Most of my friends I have met through study groups and clubs. Clubs are a great way to make friends.
How do you feel TIA best prepared you for college?
I think that TIA really helped me prepare for college by offering the dual enrollment classes. Even though I only took 3 dual enrollment classes, it really helped me my first year and I had a pretty good idea of the rigor of college classes. I also think that the college and career fair helped me to ask questions and explore different career options and colleges.
What final thoughts would you like to share with your friends back at TIA?
I want to tell my fellow schoolmates back at TIA to work hard and don’t let anything make you quit. It is fine if you have no idea what you want to do or where you want to go, but don’t let your uncertainty hold you back from applying for internships, scholarships or colleges. I encourage every student to apply for as many scholarships as they can while they are still in high school no matter the award amount. They really do add up and help when you’re in college. I know I applied to over 50 scholarships while I was in high school and I only ended up getting 3, but those three scholarships put me through my first year of college without debt. I would also share with students that developing good work habits now will really help you to go a long way through college and beyond. Just keep being persistent! The journey to attend college may seem long and hard at times but before you realize it goals have been reached and it was all worth it!
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