From first generation student to first generation mentor

As the first one in her family to graduate high school, Gexi Chavez-Bonilla is ready to use her time at TU to help students who are just like her

By Kyle Hobstetter on February 28, 2019

Gexi Chavez Bonilla
Gexi Chavez-Bonilla is a first generation college student who is studying elementary education with hopes of being a teacher when she graduates. 

Growing up in Lanham, Maryland, Towson University sophomore Gexi Chavez-Bonilla was always told that education was her way to a better life.

She has taken this advice to heart, and is studying Elementary Education with hopes of becoming a teacher when she graduates. She’s also hoping to pass on the importance of education to her future students the same way it was passed onto her. 

“Education made me realize there are a lot of different outlets for you to progress your life,” Chavez-Bonilla said. “I want my students to know that you can be successful with education.” 

One of the reasons education is so important to Chavez-Bonilla is that she is a first generation college student, and the first person from her family to graduate from high school.  

Being accepted to college was a big goal for Chavez-Bonilla. It was so big that when she received her acceptance letter from TU, Bonilla admitted she was speechless. 

The shock of the acceptance letter was important because not only did it make her realize her goals are achievable, but she can now serve as an example for her nine- and 16-year old siblings.

“Being even the first high school graduate in my family has formed a layer for us,” Chavez-Bonilla says. “That means if one of us could do it, we can all do it. I’m trying to improve on that by being a college graduate and showing my family that if I can get this degree, I will help you get yours.”

One of the most difficult things for Chavez-Bonilla as a first generation student is her family can’t relate to what she’s going through in college with homework, essays, tests and trying to balance her social life with her school work. 

But when she got to campus she found a support system within the Center for Student Diversity and the SAGE Program, where she served as both a mentee and a mentor.

She’s also has been involved with the Generation One Program, which provides TU’s first generation students with tailored mentoring and guidance to foster both academic and personal accomplishment.   

It’s through these programs that Chavez-Bonilla was able to meet fellow first generation students that relate to her struggles and helped her feel less isolated. She’s also learned to be more of an ally to different campus communities, as well representing the LatinX community more.

“Generation One gives you an atmosphere and a community of people who have gone through the same struggles,” Chavez-Bonilla says. “You’re just able to talk and you’re able to address what you’re feeling and have people say ‘Hey, I know what you’re going through, let me help you.’”

Meet TU's First Generation Students 

While she has found a community at TU, Chavez-Bonilla admits there have been other challenges, which includes having difficulty talking with other college students about her finances.

As she was looking at colleges, she applied to every university and college in Maryland as she was trying to find what school would provide the most financial assistance. 

And while she received a great financial aid package from Towson University, Chavez-Bonilla was excited she ended up at TU because of the College of Education’s history.

“TU really did bless me with a great financial aid package,” Chavez-Bonilla laughs. “But being an education major, and knowing the history of the College of Education, and the teachers that TU has created and given opportunities to, I want to be on that list of teachers who affect the community in really positive ways.”   

She’s already using her experiences at TU to help the community. She is currently volunteering with a program called Reading Partners, which has TU students go into Baltimore City schools and work an after school program that helps children with reading comprehension.

Chavez-Bonilla also helps at Prince George’s County schools as a translator. She volunteers in her home county because it has a large LatinX community and there are not a lot of teachers and administrators who are fluent in Spanish.   

So during the summer, she would volunteer at elementary schools helping parents register their children for school.

“And it was a crazy thing to see, even though students had Spanish speaking parents, the students were able to speak English,” Chavez-Bonilla says. “But because their parents couldn’t speak English, a lot of administrators would automatically put the students in in a English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class or programs.”

That hit a little close to home for Chavez-Bonilla, because when she was in elementary school she was put into an ESOL class because her parents didn’t know how to speak English.

Since coming to TU and starting her Elementary Education classes, she’s learned how to approach children who come from similar backgrounds. She’s hoping as a first generation student herself, her students will be able to reach out to her and have an inspirational connection with her, so they can move forward with their goals.

“I can relate to them and I can help them realize they are more than trauma or their situation right now,” Chavez-Bonilla says. “And I can lead them to resources that can assist them for the betterment of their future is really important for me because I wanted that for myself, and now that I do have that I want to give back.” 

“I want to help students get rid of those insecurities, and help them realize they are capable of so much.”