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First-generation student awarded study abroad scholarship

First-generation student is closer to fulfilling her dream of studying abroad with the help a scholarship

Leonela Urrutia, sophomore political science major, poses for a photo at the Tempe campus on Friday Oct. 21, 2016.
Leonela Urrutia, sophomore political science major, poses for a photo at the Tempe campus on Friday Oct. 21, 2016.

With no cell service and a brief wifi connection, an ASU student discovered that she was awarded a study abroad scholarship on a family summer trip to Guatemala. But for her, it was more than just the scholarship.

For political science sophomore Leonela Urrutia, her dream of studying in Paris is closer to coming true with the help of the ISA Planning Scholarship for first-generation college students.

The study abroad scholarship is a one-time award of $2000 during a semester program or $1000 for a summer program. 

According to International Program Manager Kyle Rausch, freshmen declared as first-generation students on FAFSA can apply to the scholarship second semester of freshman year. Rauch said the scholarship is awarded based on obstacles they have that could prevent them from studying abroad.

As a first-generation student with parents from Guatemala, Urrutia is very familiar with obstacles. Her mother moved to the United States when she was nine-years old and received a high school education. Her father grew up in Guatemala and finished high school with a technical degree. 

“He knows how important education is, both my parents do, so it has always been pressed on my siblings and me to go to college,” Urrutia said.

With little guidance from her parents, she said it has not been an easy process. She said that it is like a test run for her and her sisters, learning as they go. 

“It is difficult because my parents don’t understand where my siblings and I are coming from," she said. "They kind of feel useless because they don’t really know what we are doing."

According to First Generation Foundation, roughly 50 percent of college students' parents never went to college. The study abroad office offers different resources to make the experience easier for students with no parental guidance. 

“I think that is one of the biggest struggles for a first-generation student but it is rewarding that my parents’ hard work and sacrifice is going to pay off one day with all of my dreams coming true,” Urrutia said.

Urrutia plans on using her scholarship to study at the American Business School of Paris next fall. She hopes to become fluent in French, learn about and experience different political systems from around the world and learn about different cultures. 

With strong interests in government, public policy and countries around the world, Urrutia is planning on studying international law after getting a bachelor's degree and eventually running for public office and the senate one day. 

Urrutia's accomplishments do not go by unnoticed by her family. 

“I am just so proud,” her mother Glenda Urrutia said. “I have no words to express the way a mom feels when a child is accomplishing everything she wants to.”

Her mother describes Urrutia as a very determined person who is outgoing and persistent to get what she wants. 

“Being a first-generation, she is just overcoming so many obstacles that we think that we have and she is one who has proven that there are no obstacles,” Glenda said.

Despite her happiness for her daughter, she is worried about Urrutia going to Europe and being so far away from home. 

“As a mother you don’t want your child to go too far,” she said. “At the same time, I know that what she is doing is something to accomplish her dreams, and she has always said that she wanted to study abroad and go to Paris.”


Reach the reporter at gbachara@asu.edu or follow @aka_gabs on Twitter.

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