From the Valley to the Classroom: Stories of College Success

Former CAC adviser Gina Moraida poses with her former on-site supervisors. “They were instrumental in the start of my career,” she says.

The daughter of two educators, Gina Moraida always valued education. Filled with admiration, she watched as her father completed his doctorate degree and her mother completed her graduate degree. It wasn’t until Moraida was eight and her eldest cousin was accepted into college it occurred to her that one day, she’d be a college student, too.

In the Rio Grande Valley’s La Feria, Texas, Moraida grew up surrounded by her large, extended family.

“You always felt like someone had your back there,” she said.

By high school, Moraida found her passion in journalism. With help from her school counselor and her mother, and with encouragement from her father, she applied to 10 colleges.

“If you can, you leave,” urged her parents, even though for financial reasons they had attended college close to home.

The opportunity to leave home arrived when Moraida was accepted into Texas Christian University (TCU), over 500 miles away, where she enrolled as a journalism major. By the end of her first semester, Moraida, who identifies as a Latina, questioned her decision

“I was used to living in an area where I represented the majority,” said Moraida. “At TCU, I was a minority.”

She withdrew from TCU and enrolled at Texas A&M-Kingsville, her father’s alma mater, just 100 miles from home.

“At Kingsville, I saw myself,” said Moraida, who felt a sense of comfort there.

Coming home had been important for her education and future. In 2014, she graduated from Kingsville with a psychology degree and would go on to later earn a master’s in higher education from Abilene Christian University.

Janelle Davila

In fall 2015, Moraida became a College Advising Corps (CAC) adviser at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo North Early College High School (PSJA) in Pharr, Texas. Just 25 miles from home, Moraida was delighted to give back to her community by helping high school students like Janelle Davila discover their paths to college

Like Moraida, Davila has fond memories of her K-12 experience. She recalled a number of educators who inspired her. Moraida was among these influencers.

“I vividly remember the day I met Ms. Moraida,” Davila said, laughing and recalling advice she’d offered about college entrance exams.

An ambitious student and the youngest of three children in a single-mother household, Davila aspired to go to college and change her future. Despite her motivation to attend college, Davila faced unique challenges, as she would be the first in her family to earn a college degree.

With guidance from Moraida, Davila applied for multiple scholarships and universities. When Davila received not only her acceptance letter to Sam Houston State University, but also news of a $90,000 full scholarship including living expenses, it was Moraida who celebrated with her.

“She literally started crying with me,” Davila said as she remembered sharing this moment with her CAC adviser. “Even though I had my mom’s support, it felt amazing to see someone else care.”

The desire to help people was what drew Moraida to her role as a CAC adviser and, today, she serves the organization’s national office as senior associate of database and knowledge. Knowing that her work touched others is just one of the reasons she maintains her own long-term goal to, like her father, pursue a doctorate degree. She is inspired by the accomplishments and pursuits of her mentors, as well as mentees like Davila

At 21 years old, Davila is a first-generation college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. She lives just north of Houston where she works as a victim advocate at a large law firm. An ambitious entrepreneur, she also owns three small businesses, and is enrolled in a program to earn her K-6 teaching certificate so she can help today’s young people the way Moraida helped her.

“At the end of the day,” Davila emphasized, “your education can’t be taken away from you.”