Gabriela Cortes Cortes is proud not to have let any obstacle, including a pandemic or the challenges of a first-generation student, hold her back from earning a four-year degree in the College of Science.
She remembers feeling shy and lonely when she first arrived in Oregon from Mexico in seventh grade, knowing very little English and feeling lost in the classroom. A bilingual teacher came alongside her, helping her feel more welcome and connecting her with resources.
“By the end of the year, I was able to comprehend almost everything that was said by the teachers, and I knew what to expect from my classes and what to do – even though I still wasn’t confident enough to speak in English,” she said. “In my freshman year of high school, students were given Chromebook laptops, which enabled me to use Google Translate to help learn English.”
This spring, Cortes graduates from OSU with a major in BioHealth Sciences, a minor in chemistry and an option in pre-dentistry. Along the way, she’s placed on the OSU honor roll three times and was awarded two grants and three scholarships for her two years at OSU and her previous two years at Chemeketa Community College.
“My parents are always reminding me that I am capable of achieving my goals – even though sometimes subjects are really hard since English is my second language.”
Cortes is especially grateful to her Oregon State advisors and her Ford Family peer mentor for their encouragement and support. Reed Davis, an academic counselor for first-generation TRIO program students, referred her to many helpful resources on campus such as academic counseling, tutoring and mentoring programs, assistance with financial aid and scholarship application, and student success workshops.
Tiffany Bolman, her BioHealth Science advisor, coached her about the process of applying to dental school, offering to be an ongoing resource after graduation. And she encouraged Cortes to focus on her strengths and accomplishments, rather than on her disappointment at not moving forward faster.
“Tiffany really supported me, saying, ‘You came this far, and you should be proud of yourself.’ She told me that she also was a first-generation student and said, ‘I understand you, and know it's hard. I was myself in the same position.’ She identified with me, and I identify with her because she knows all the obstacles I've been through, like needing to learn English and being a first-generation student from a low-income family,” Cortes said.
Because of Covid, Cortes spent only two terms on campus in Corvallis before returning home to live with her family in Mount Angel. While she is sad that her on-campus experience was short-lived, she relished the time she lived with other students in university housing. “I am so glad I had that experience. I will never forget that,” she said.
After graduation, Cortes plans to take two gap years during which time she plans to enroll in a dental assisting program and apply to dental schools, including Oregon Health Sciences University.