Maria Arreloa’s purple hair isn’t the only thing that makes her stand out.
On May 16, Arreloa, 24, will be walking across the stage to receive her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology from Texas Wesleyan at Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary. She will be the first person in her family to graduate college.
“This is what my parents wanted,” she said. “My parents are very thrilled that I’m not only the only one in my family to go into college and graduate, but also in my neighborhood I am the first one to do that.”
Arreloa said that being a first generation college student isn’t easy, but is worth it in the end.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” she said. “I’m the role model for my younger siblings and if I do something bad or fail a class my younger siblings will think it is okay to fail a class. I was always pressured to get good grades and go to class.”
Aurora Arreloa, her mother, said she is thankful for all the accomplishments her family has made to help Arreloa succeed.
“After all the hard work we have put in to have her graduate, I hope that she finds the career of her dreams so that, not only her, but her future family can live a better life than what we have lived,” she said. “Because we were immigrants, it has cost us a lot so that she can continue to study and I am very thankful for what we have accomplished.”
Her mother is very proud of her and is happy Arreloa has taken all of her advice.
“She is the first of my four children to go into college and is a great example to her brothers so that they can get into college,” she said. “During dinner I always tell my kids, ‘if you want it, you get it.’ Both my husband and I are very proud that our first daughter accomplished her goal of graduating from college.”
Growing up, Arreloa spent a lot of time outdoors because she did not have cable television like most of the other kids. She began to question the world around her at a very young age and believes that this curiosity helped her when she picked her degree.
“I would come across insects and birds and I was always wondering how this bird catches this bird,” she said. “Because I wasn’t inside all the time, it just made me more curious about the outside world.”
When Arreloa started as a freshmen at Wesleyan five years ago, she wanted to pursue a degree in theater with a psychology minor, but later changed her major to psychology because theater was too competitive. However, the passion of always trying to answer the questions from the world around her ultimately caused Arreloa to change degrees again to major in biology with a psychology minor.
“I had to take non-major courses and biology was one of them,” she said. “The course isn’t detailed so when they started going over DNA molecules it got me interested. Psychology just seemed a little too broad for me.”
With her degree, Arreloa hopes to get a job in the forensics field. However, her biggest fear is “not finding a job in general” after graduation, but she does believe that getting a degree in science will help her secure a job.
“I don’t want to go back to a restaurant or retail or anything like that,” she said. “I keep hearing professors say that baby-boomers are retiring. Most people in the medical field will retire soon and the job openings are going to open more than they are now.”
By completing a bachelor’s degree, students are more likely to be employed. According to the national center for education statistics website, as of 2013, the unemployment rate for 20-24 year olds is 7 percent and for 25-34 year olds is 3.6 percent.
According to txwes.edu, the 2014-2015 graduation statistics showed that 45 percent of undergraduate students at Wesleyan indicated pursuing graduate school and 46 percent of undergraduate students were employed in a field related to their degree.
Her advice for other students as they make their way toward graduation would be to make sure they work hard in their classes, start looking for graduate schools and start networking.
“Focus on your classes, don’t slack, because it does come back to haunt you,” she said. “Get in touch with professors to help you find a career that suits you. Just make sure you know people.”
Arreloa also suggests that students get to know different professors outside of Wesleyan.
“Get in touch with professors from other schools,” she said. “That way you have doors that open. If a school doesn’t open doors for you, there is another one because you know professors in that school.”
Arreloa has continued to follow her own advice and is excited to graduate and move into the next chapter of her life.
“After 4 years, you’re thinking to yourself, man, it’s time to go,” she said. “Now that I’m graduating it’s like, oh my god, what am I going to do with my life?”