by Harrison Nelson

As a first-generation student raised in a Spanish-speaking community, Carmen Calvillo understands firsthand the need for community-based support and resources. Growing up, she often had to translate for her parents during doctor’s visits and be a resource for them in an English-speaking world. And when Carmen came to Michigan State University, an unfamiliar place with many unfamiliar faces, she too needed support. To assist in her transition, Carmen took advantage of several programs geared toward students like her to help realize her goals. Her journey is a testament to Carmen’s incredible drive, as well as how MSU’s array of resources and student-supporting programs can make a crucial difference in a student’s future.


Carmen first participated in the MSU College Assistance Migrant Program Scholars Initiative (MSU CAMP). MSU CAMP is a residential program for individuals with a migrant or seasonal farm work background that provides academic, social, and financial support to help them successfully transition to MSU and complete their first year of college.

Seeing other students with similar backgrounds being successful at MSU was very influential to Carmen. “Meeting alumni that look like myself and seeing that they did it through all of the obstacles they may have faced, I could see myself in their position,” Carmen says. The motivation, encouragement and resources provided by MSU CAMP, and her fellow students, assisted Carmen throughout her studies at MSU, driving her to succeed.

Dow STEM Scholars Program

Carmen also took advantage of the Dow STEM Scholars Program, which helps incoming students wanting to pursue a STEM major transition to college and develop important math and science skills. She used the summer math classes the Program offered to stay ahead for her math courses. The Program also provided valuable connections with other students in STEM through study groups and group events, creating a network of relationships with fellow students. Seeing other women studying and graduating with STEM degrees also inspired Carmen to continue her path.

TRIO Student Support Services Program

In her second year, Carmen started to give back to other first-generation students. She became involved with the TRIO Student Support Services Program as a peer coach to help first-generation students navigate MSU.

TRIO offers assistance to first-generation college students through professional workshops, resources, support, networking opportunities and more. “I always like to help people, especially because I know as a first-gen student, it is not easy knowing where to start. It is fulfilling for me to be able to help them and guide them through the often difficult and confusing process of starting college,” says Carmen.

Lambda Theta Alpha Sorority

To further connect with the MSU community, Carmen joined the academic-based, Latin sorority Lambda Theta Alpha. During her time with the sorority, she served as a member of the Executive Board, Chapter President, and Chapter Treasurer, as well as managing the sorority’s social media presence.

She appreciated her time with Lambda Theta Alpha, and credits it for developing her professional skills and creativity. “With a background in the sciences, I always used to think one way, but handling these different positions has allowed me to be creative, especially with public relations and social media,” says Carmen. 

Above all, though, the experience helped Carmen meet more students like herself who were welcoming and reassuring while supporting her throughout her college career.

The Future

After five years at the university, Carmen has come a long way. She has finished her studies in Biomedical Laboratory Science, and she will be completing an internship at Bronson Hospital in southwest Michigan this summer.

Much like the support she provided her family over the years, the connections she made throughout her time at MSU proved essential to her success and persistence as a first-generation student. Key programs and student engagement opportunities helped Carmen successfully transition to the MSU community and ensured she had the support and resources necessary to graduate.