How a Tech Mom is Earning Her College Degree

Going to college can be a real challenge. Between balancing life and the cost of tuition, it is becoming an option that many people are avoiding. Today, I present you a great post from Melissa Rivera. She is one of the original #LabEveryday members and a real leader in the community. In this post, Melissa shares with us her insight on how she is navigating different outlets, to achieve her education goals.


“I don’t know where to start”

That’s exactly what I thought when I decided to continue my education through my local community college, after receiving my CCNA certification. What I did know, was that this was the path I wanted to take, and it needed to be done even if I didn’t have all the answers or resources at the moment. If the tech field has taught me anything, it is how to find the resources.


At a young age the odds were statistically stacked against me. For starters, I am a Hispanic female. I became a teen mom my senior year of high school. I am the first in my family to attend college, so not knowing exactly how to navigate college, was also adding to the quickly multiplying stack. Then I became a single mom, which ultimately led to me working full time just to pay bills and my babysitter. I attended a private institution, which is where I obtained my first degree. This is also, where they (the institution) was all too willing to allow me to take out ample loans to pay for it.


I’m now a 32-year-old, newly self-described techie, with two kids working full-time and attending school (11 units next semester). I stumbled upon the MESA program (Math Engineering Science Achievement) while attending a tutoring session with my English professor. I had ZERO idea what it was, even though I am a Math major. Little did I know, that everything was about to come full circle.


MESA is a program in high schools, junior colleges, and some universities. They host events for networking, tutoring, volunteer opportunities, school resources, the list goes on. In September, I was evaluated and accepted into the MESA program. They also required me to meet with a specialized college counselor that personally helps to keep track of my educational plan and also MY needs.


My counselor, Ms. Trang, helped by walking me around the other various programs that are either Federally funded with almost unlimited resources, or State funded with ample resources, but stricter guidelines on how to be accepted into them. She also explained the TAG program (Transfer Admission Guarantee), that my college offers. This allows students the opportunity to transfer even without a degree, but with certain requirements (different for every system applying to), i.e.: GPA, number of units completed, etc.


So, what about the money?


Ms. Trang set me up with a one-on-one meeting with a financial aid adviser. I didn’t even know public colleges did this. All of my previous interactions were through a walk-up window! I met with Lucia, and she was enthusiastically willing to walk me through step by step, and to hand me anything she thought I could benefit from.

  • Did you know there’s more than one grant you can qualify for, just by being a registered student?

  • Did you know being a parent qualifies you for aid and sooooo many other grants and scholarships?

  • Did you know every major has specialized scholarships?

  • Did you know that being a specific race or gender (in my case Hispanic and a woman) can qualify you for even more??

Let’s not forget that FAFSA is THE number one source of financial aid.


What felt at times like my back was up against the ropes, has turned out to work in my favor. As a parent, I can use many different state and federal resources. There are campus groups that I can join, because I’m Hispanic and a woman in STEM, on top of all the regular STEM groups! Google also allows me to narrow my group field of scholarships by “STEM scholarships in Santa Clara, Ca.” Doing this limits the amount of competition for the actual funds. Even when it’s time for me to transfer, there are states and universities that offer scholarships based on GPA or fields of study.


It’s all about asking and using your resources to find people who know the answers to the questions you seek.

The money is there, take it!


Melissa A. Rivera,

- CCNA in procgress

- AWSarchitect in training

- Follow Melissa on Twitter @CodeHer317

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