As a child of Mexican immigrants who did not have an education past the sixth grade, Leslie Gracia was intimidated but confident in her decision to attend college.
"Being the first to go to college is game-changing for my family and me. Even though it's scary going into something totally new, I know I'll end up with a good outcome," she said.
Gracia considers herself a shy person and never imagined she would dive even further into the unknown and seek out leadership roles in college. "In high school, I was scared to talk to people, but when college came, I tried to get out of my shell," said Gracia. Last year, she served as the service officer for the Rho Kappa chapter of Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society. This academic year, she took a more significant step and ran for student body president, which she now serves proudly.
Gracia's growth at Elgin Community College began early on when she joined the TRiO Upward Bound program — a federally funded college preparation program that helps eligible high school students. The program helps first-generation students develop the knowledge, skills, and motivation necessary to succeed in high school, enroll in college, and graduate.
As a first-generation college student, Gracia leans on programs like TRiO to help her navigate. Gracia knew she always wanted to continue learning after high school and received moral support at home and technical support through the programs. "My parents help my sisters and me in every way they can and help us prioritize school before anything else."
Gracia realizes how important it is to seek help. "It's hard sometimes to ask for help, especially if you are shy like me. But reaching out to people for more information helps you gain access to new opportunities," she said. As this academic year progresses, Gracia continues growing as a leader for ECC's student body, finishing her Associate in Science degree and applying to colleges to reach for the stars with a major in astrophysics.