Rosalia Armas learned the importance of education from her mom but being the first in the family to pursue college meant that she lacked guidance on how to navigate admissions and student resources. During the second week of her first semester at community college while working full time, she received unexpected inspiration to earn her bachelor’s degree – news that she was pregnant with her daughter, Lillian.
“I was crying when I found out I was pregnant, especially when I made it back to college,” Armas (’21, sociology) said. “But being a mom was part of the why I wanted to get my life together, and my daughter was the biggest reason to. She gave me a lot of the motivation that I didn’t know I had in me and I turned my life around because of her – I’m going back to school to pursue my education and I’m going to do whatever it takes.”
Armas felt her hard work paid off as she walked across the commencement stage during Cal Poly Pomona’s drive-in ceremony, completing her bachelor’s degree in sociology. This coming fall, she will pursue a Master’s in Social Work at Azusa Pacific University on a full-ride scholarship to be an advocate and mentor to others who face similar challenges as her. She attributes her success to the support of Lillian, her family and Cal Poly Pomona.
When Armas transferred form Citrus College to Cal Poly Pomona in 2019, she accessed campus resources through PolyTransfer, a program that supports underserved, underrepresented and first-generation students to help them transition to Cal Poly Pomona and graduate. Armas used multiple resources to support her needs, including financial services, the Poly Pantry and free food events, and the Children’s Center.
“All of these resources are important for me and for all Cal Poly Pomona students because they really fostered that sense of belonging for me as a first-generation, transfer student and student parent,” Armas said. “It was really important for me to feel like I have a place where I belong, where I can always come to, and I have others to relate to.”
Armas enrolled Lillian in the Children’s Center on campus, which allowed them both to grow by giving Armas the time she needed to attend classes and offering Lillian an encouraging environment to learn. The Children’s Center offers a developmental learning program for children ages 2 to 5, introducing literacy, math and science subjects and strengthening social and creative skills. Armas said that Lillian grew out of her comfort zone and built many friendships. Before shelter-in-place, Lillian also enjoyed walking through the Japanese Garden, eating at Centerpointe, and at three years old, said she wanted to go to college, just like her mom.
“Without the Children’s Center, I would not have been able to share my campus as much as I did with Lillian,” Armas said. “As my daughter grows up, I hope that she doesn’t limit herself no matter her gender or her race. She can do and accomplish anything she wants, and her mom will always be there to support her no matter what.”
Before starting her master’s program, Armas participated in experiential opportunities that allowed her to contribute to her communities. As ASI secretary of basic needs, she connected students to the resources that helped those facing financial, housing and nutritional insecurities, some of the same programs she used as a Bronco.
Armas also conducted research on the challenges specific to student parents attending a university and resources that would support their success. For example, typical operating hours for resources and services are open during times when parents are also working, causing limited availability and access. Research respondents also found it difficult to join clubs and organizations because the environment are not family-friendly or they want to dedicate more time as a parent rather than an active student.
These opportunities strengthened Armas’ sense of belonging and motivation to advocate for underserved students.
“I feel more confident and more knowledgeable, and the research aligned with my passions to advocate for student parents,” Armas said. “I want to pursue my career because I don’t think someone like that was there for me when I needed it the most. I want to make sure to push for others to voice their needs and help them get what they deserve. They belong here and they made it this far because they deserve it – they’ve worked hard just like others.”
Armas looks back with pride on all her achievements through all the challenges she faced growing up. Her mom immigrated from Mexico to the United States, and had a difficult time finding stable work because of her lack of English and immigration status. They faced food insecurity and home displacement but looked to education to better their lives. Armas’ mom was disappointed at first when Armas told her about the pregnancy, but eventually supported her in her academic and career path.
“Thank you to my family who is always there to support me,” Armas said. “I know most of the time it was challenging to understand what I was working on or doing but thank you so much for believing in me and always pushing me. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for all of you and all of your support.”