This is the second in the “Pathway Series” of stories on Cristina Cruz, who is part of the first generation in her family to attend college. Read Part 1 here, which covered Cruz’s move from Mexico City to Naples and why she settled on pursuing a computer engineering degree at the University of Florida. In Part 2, we check in following her first semester at UF.
Cristina Cruz’s fall semester at the University of Florida in Gainesville was also the first time the 19-year-old freshman had ventured outside her hometown of Naples for a significant period of time.
“The environment here is really different from Naples, which is mostly a retirement place,” said Cruz, a Mexico City native who moved to Naples with her family when she was 9 years old. “In Gainesville, everywhere you go, it’s mostly students and it’s more city-like.”
Cruz is part of the first generation in her family to attend college. But while her older brothers chose to stay in Southwest Florida — Fernando and Jose Luis are currently enrolled at Florida Gulf Coast University and Ave Maria University, respectively — Cruz took a considerably larger step away from home by picking a school more than four hours away.
“It’s been different with my parents not being around and having teachers who aren’t holding your hand all the time,” Cruz said. “At the beginning, it was a little hard getting used to that, but I wasn’t too dependent at home either. The professors here have higher expectations of you, and you have to basically meet all of them.”
Cruz is majoring in computer engineering and completed 12 credits during the fall semester. Her favorite class, “The Impact of Materials on Society,” a requirement for her program, provided another opportunity for a new experience.
“We got to see new materials during the first section of a lecture, and it was the first time I’d ever seen obsidian,” she said. “The class was interesting because it talked about the ways materials shape the different disciplines of engineering.”
Although Cruz relished most aspects of her newfound independence, she found herself relying on others for the first time to succeed with her school work.
“I realized the way that I studied in high school is completely different than the way I needed to study here,” said Cruz, who quickly joined several study groups. “In college, you have to apply your knowledge and use it in a bunch of different ways, so having those different perspectives is important.”
Cruz said she initially struggled with approaching total strangers to share the study load.
“Naples is a little more closed off and you know everyone and all the different places,” she said. “Here, I had to meet new people, learn my way around, and it was something that took me out of my box completely.”
Fortunately, Cruz had at least one familiar shoulder to lean on: she shares a dorm room at Beaty Towers on UF’s campus with her best friend Tatiana from Naples along with two other suitemates.
Cruz had planned on getting a part-time job during her initial semester at UF, but chose to focus on her studies and acclimating to her new life instead.
“I’m still definitely considering it down the line, but right now I’m lucky that I have enough financial aid that I don’t need to have a job,” said Cruz, who is receiving financial aid from a combination of federal, state, institutional and private sources. In addition to being a Bright Futures Academic Scholar, Cruz also received a Pell Grant and scholarships from Take Stock in Children, the Community Foundation of Collier County and UF.
Cruz said she didn’t get to explore Gainesville as much as she would have liked during the fall, though she counts Bagels and Noodles as a favorite hangout spot in town. Her 17-credit course load for the spring is even more demanding.
While that means fewer family visits to Naples, Cruz is excited about the prospect of further exercising her independence while taking on a bigger scholastic challenge.
“I was actually expecting to be calling home and coming back as often as I could,” said Cruz, who only drove back to Naples “a couple of times” during the fall semester. “I met a lot of people who got homesick whenever they went back, so I tried to minimize the amount of times I came home and focus as much as I could on being in school.”
This story is part of Florida College Access Network’s “Pathway Series”, a year-long project that seeks to highlight the diversity of experiences students face as they pursue postsecondary degrees. Each student will be profiled at the start of the school year, during the fall, in the spring, and during the summer following the conclusion of their first year.