As the first in her family to go to college, Maria Alvarez said she didn’t know what to expect when she arrived at The University of Texas at Austin.
She credits programs such as the University Leadership Network with helping her gain confidence and succeed. After she found her voice, she decided she wanted to help nonprofits express themselves. She wants to give back to the community by using the communication skills she learned inside and outside of the classroom as a public relations major at UT Austin.
“In order to get to where I am today, I had many mentors in the community reaching out and helping me find my way,” Alvarez said. “I want to pay it forward for other future first-generation students by helping nonprofits and resources find and develop their voice.”
During her time at UT Austin, she has held various positions to help her community, including as a public relations intern at UTeach Outreach; as a mentor in the Google Community Leaders Program; as a communications intern for CATCH Global Foundation; and as an account manager for Con Mi Madre with Texas Tower PR, a student-run PR firm at UT.
Editor’s Note: Alvarez interned in the University Communications office for the past year writing content for the UT News website.
We spoke with Alvarez about the impact of college on her life and her plans after graduation.
Q. What’s the difference between you before you got to UT and you now?
Maria Alvarez: If you talked to me during my senior year of high school, it would have been extremely evident how shy and introverted I was. I was always afraid to volunteer for things. Once I got to college, I was in a room with over 200 students, and it dawned on me that if I don't put myself out there, then no one else will. Now, as a senior in college, I can gladly say that I took advantage of any opportunity that I was interested in instead of waiting for someone else to make me do it.
Q. What were some challenges that helped you become who you are now? What did you learn from them?
Alvarez: Coming in as a first-generation college student, I had no clue how college worked. There was a lot of struggling at first, but I think this was necessary for me to become more independent. I definitely went to my advisers, I want to say like at least once a month, asking all the questions I could, especially about things like financial aid.
I learned that if I want to accomplish a big goal, like graduating from college, I have to want it for myself and be willing to push myself to my limits.
Q. Why did you decide to come to UT?
Alvarez: I wanted to attend a school that had as much opportunity to grow not only academically, but also in my career. I wanted to make sure that I can gain experience in the industry I wanted to pursue, and I saw that UT fit my need. My degree plan required us to have an internship, and the strong alumni connection helped open opportunities.
Q. What are your plans after graduation?
Alvarez: After graduation, I am moving to New York to be a junior associate in strategy for 360i through the Multicultural Advertising Intern Program.
Q. What resources and support did you find on campus that helped you most?
Alvarez: The University Leadership Network definitely helped me sharpen my professional skills while also helping me develop a small community within this large university. The career advising office also taught me how to turn what I learned in my academics to talking points during interviews that made me stand out from the pool of applicants.
Q. What else would you like people to know about your story?
Alvarez: I am a first-generation college student, and I do come from a low-income background, but I refuse to let that define where I end up in life. It can be difficult, but I want to make sure I make my family proud and can be an example for others with a similar background.
I would not trade the spot I am in right now for anything in the world. It feels surreal that I am graduating in a couple of days, but I can’t wait to see what’s next.