How TCU Adviser Alma Luna Helped Create a College-Going Culture at Her Alma Mater

It’s almost eerie how similar Alma Luna and Heidi Estrada are.

Alma graduated as valedictorian from Sam Houston High in 2013. She comes from a low-income background with parents who are immigrants, and she and her brother were the first people in their family to graduate from high school, let alone attend college. Her College Advising Corps adviser, Margaret Okena, helped guide her to Texas Christian University.

So when Alma came back to Sam Houston High as a TCU College Advising Corps adviser, she started guiding her own group of students to college—including the 2018 valedictorian, Heidi.

Heidi is also from a low-income background with parents who are immigrants. She started her freshman year at the George Washington University this fall, and she’s the first person in her family to attend college. But when Heidi first met Alma—whose background mirrors her own so closely—she wasn’t sure she needed Alma’s assistance.

“I am an AVID student and an Upward Bound student,” Heidi said. “I felt like I had enough [help].”

But Heidi learned that Alma could give her something deeper.

“[Alma] wasn’t just offering information,” Heidi said. “We were getting inspiration from her. We were getting motivation from her.”

Alma was using her own experiences—a fundamental part of CAC’s near-peer model—to show students that if she could do it, they could do it.

And she was giving her students permission to dream bigger than they thought they could. As Heidi says, she “was so shook” when Alma suggested she think about applying to an Ivy League school.

“Coming to the George Washington University, it had a lot to do with what Ms. Alma said to me,” Heidi said.

And when Heidi won the $25,000 Live Mas Taco Bell scholarship in the spring, Alma saw the generations of work dating back to her days as a student paying off.

“Awarding [Heidi] and surprising her was setting a standard for the rest of her peers,” Alma said. “This is what you can accomplish if you keep working hard and continue to pursue your goals.”

College Advising Corps works to increase the number of low-income, first-generation college, and underrepresented high school students who enter and complete higher education.

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