Student Spotlight: Melissa Garza
Melissa Garza helped bring TCU students home from Europe and completed her capstone project to earn a doctorate in higher education. Motivated by her own experience as a first-generation college student, she interviewed first-generation Latinas studying education at TCU to learn how they overcame struggles to earn their degrees.
Garza earned her Bachelor of Social Work from TCU in 2007, her Master of Social Work from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2009 and began working at TCU in 2012. She now works as a Coordinator for Short-Term Programs for TCU’s Center for International Studies. When COVID-19 ramped up in Europe, she helped bring many students home to the United States. After full days of work from home, she edited her capstone video and paper at night.
“The project didn’t feel like work for me because watching the women’s success was a motivator to keep going,” Garza said. “They are all phenomenal and I wanted to represent their stories accurately.”
Garza reviewed educational research showing that Hispanic women are the least likely to earn higher education degrees and filmed interviews with five alumnae who she advised while they attended TCU. She asked the women how they succeeded in earning their degrees and learned that each counted on their own resilience as their motivation, instilled in them by family and the pressure to not let them down.
View a Clip of Melissa Garza’s Video Project Below
“When I first heard the title [of first-generation] I didn’t realize the weight that it carried,” alumna Lea Sandoval said in her interview. “Over time I started realizing this [degree] is not just for me, it’s for generations before me.”
Alumnae and staff who Garza interviewed gave practical recommendations to support first-generation students, such as a dedicated place to connect, more intentional programming and increased faculty mentorship. Garza said all five women mentioned TCU’s Student Support Services (SSS) program as the place where they felt completely comfortable on campus.
“Language definitely is a barrier, not only because of language transition, but there’s also college-centered language,” SSS Director Cynthia Montes said in her interview. She said students are more likely to ask questions and clarify academic terms with someone they feel comfortable around.
Garza hopes she can share her video interviews and findings more widely to help more underrepresented students earn higher education degrees. She said she hopes to share this project more widely to make a practical impact for students in Fort Worth and beyond.