Tyson Voelkel

Tyson Voelkel is the president of the Texas A&M Foundation.

Howdy Ags,

It’s no secret: Aggies are proud to be Aggies. It’s special to say that you are a “third-,” “fourth-,” or even “fifth-generation Aggie,” but I think there is just as much pride to be found in being a first-generation Aggie, and even more so in being a first-generation college student.

Take Marlisa “Marly” Marquez ’21, for example. Marly is among the 25 percent of Texas A&M University undergraduates who are first-generation college students. She grew up in McAllen, Texas, with her mother acting as the sole provider for their family. She impressed upon Marly the importance of striving for what she wanted in life and pushed her to think bigger for her future.

But even with her mother’s support, no one in her family had ever attended college, and earning a degree didn’t seem financially feasible—that is, until she began to receive scholarships during her senior year of high school. Though she had no previous knowledge of Texas A&M, the generous scholarship offers she received from the university immediately swayed her toward Aggieland.

When Marly arrived on campus, she found a community of friends in the Science Leadership Scholars Program, which was established in 2016 to provide financial and academic support to high-performing science majors who share common at-risk factors, including being first-generation students who are financially challenged. As a Science Leadership Scholar and biology major, Marly attends weekly meetings with other recipients, where they participate in academic workshops and navigate the college experience together.

There are countless similar programs for first-generation students across campus, and last year, the Office of the Provost also announced a new Student Success Initiative that will increase support for groups like first-generation students. The initiative seeks to increase retention and four- and six-year graduation rates as well as decrease achievement disparities among undergraduates.

Today, Marly still misses her life in McAllen but remains optimistic about what her college experience means for her family. Not only has she found the path to higher education, but she’s also inspired her cousins to start thinking about attending college as well. This is in line with statistics that show first-generation graduates change the trajectory of their immediate families and increasingly are more involved in civic organizations.

To me, this is why programs like the Science Leadership Scholars and the generous gifts behind them are so important: Not only do they give opportunities for first-generation students, but they also allow those students to dream big, set the standard for others and truly lead by example.

Thanks and Gig ’em,

Tyson Voelkel ’96

President & CEO, Texas A&M Foundation

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